Around 170 people executed in Burkina Faso attacks, regional official says

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Soldiers from Burkina Faso patrol on the road of Gorgadji in sahel area, Burkina Faso March 3, 2019 [File: Luc Gnago/Reuters]

The West African Sahel nation has been struggling to contain armed groups for a decade.

Around 170 people were “executed” in attacks on three villages in northern Burkina Faso a week ago, a regional prosecutor has said, as violence flares in the country.

Aly Benjamin Coulibaly said in a statement on Sunday that he had received reports of the attacks on the villages of Komsilga, Nodin and Soroe in Yatenga province on February 25, with a provisional toll of “around 170 people executed”.

The attacks left others wounded and caused material damage, the prosecutor for the northern town of Ouahigouya said, without apportioning blame to any group.

He said his office ordered an investigation and appealed to the public for information.

Ongoing violence

Survivors of the attacks told news agency AFP that dozens of women and young children were among the victims.

Local security sources cited by AFP said the attacks were separate from deadly incidents that happened on the same day at a mosque in the rural community of Natiaboani in eastern Burkina Faso and a church in the northern village of Essakane.

Authorities have yet to release an official death toll for those attacks, but a senior church official said at the time that at least 15 civilians were killed in the Natiaboani attack.

About half of Burkina Faso is outside government control, as armed groups have ravaged the country for years.

The violence has killed almost 20,000 people and displaced more than two million people in one of the world’s poorest countries in a region wracked by instability.

Anger at the state’s inability to end the insecurity played a major role in two military coups in 2022.

Current head of state Captain Ibrahim Traore has prioritised a strong security response in reclaiming land from the rebel groups.

Ali Kabre, an independent journalist based in the capital, Ouagadougou, told Al Jazeera that the attacks were likely an attempt by armed groups to show they are “still relevant in the country” after being put on the back foot by the military who have targeted them with regular air strikes.

Burkina Faso
Ibrahim Traore gives a news conference on October 2, 2022, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso [Anadolu Agency]

Coordinated attacks

There were a number of attacks on February 25, notably against a military detachment in Tankoualou in the east, a rapid response battalion in Kongoussi in the north and soldiers in the northern region of Ouahigouya.

In response, the army and members of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP), a civilian force that supports the military, launched operations that were able “to neutralise several hundred terrorists”, according to security sources cited by AFP.

At the beginning of the week, Security Minister Mahamadou Sana described the wave of attacks as “coordinated”.

“This change in the enemy’s tactical approach is because terrorist bases have been destroyed as well as training camps, and actions were carried out to dry up the enemy’s source of financing, as well as its supply corridors,” said Sana.

Mosques and imams have in the past been the target of attacks blamed on armed groups.

Churches in Burkina Faso have also at times been targeted and Christians have been kidnapped.

The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) says that 439 people were killed in such violence in January alone.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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