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Friday 25 May 2018

Burkina Faso’s PM condemns ‘revolting’ Islamic extremist attacks in capital

Burkina Faso shares a northern border with Mali, which has long battled Islamic extremists.

Damage to the General Staff of the Armed Forces building in central Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Ludivine Laniepce/AP)
Damage to the General Staff of the Armed Forces building in central Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Ludivine Laniepce/AP)

By By Brahima Quedraogo and Carley Petesch, Associated Press

Burkina Faso’s prime minister has condemned the Islamic extremist attacks that killed at least eight people in the capital, and said the government and people must remain vigilant against such violence.

Paul Kaba Thieba met with the army chief at the army headquarters, where the assault killed at least six soldiers, including a senior officer. Two gendarmes died at the French embassy.

“I express my emotion and feeling of revolt after what I’ve seen … horrible scenes,” said Mr Thieba.

“We cannot explain why individuals reach such level of extremism. But nothing will affect the determination of the government and our people to overcome this adversity.”

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Security forces outside the General Staff of the Armed Forces building in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Ludivine Laniepce/AP)

Burkina Faso’s security forces killed eight militant attackers, and several arrests were made after Friday’s simultaneous attacks on the French Embassy and army HQ.

Trading resumed at the main market in Burkina Faso’s capital city near the headquarters, and residents returned to the streets.

Trees were burned down by the explosions, and the smell of smoke lingered over the city.

A deep hole in the ground and adjacent wall at the army headquarters mark where extremists dressed in uniforms set off a car bomb, apparently targeting a room where senior officers were to have met, but had relocated, said security minister Clement Sawadogo.

The room was completely destroyed and the car’s parts scattered inside the headquarters. Mr Sawadogo said if the meeting had taken place in that room, “our army would have been beheaded.”

This is the third attack by Islamic militants on the city since January 2016, prompting criticism of the military but no group has yet claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks.

Islamic extremists carried out two other large-scale attacks on Ouagadougou in recent years, killing 30 people at a popular cafe in 2016 and 18 more at a Turkish restaurant in August 2017.

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Forces guard the General Staff of the Armed Forces building after the Islamist extremist attack (Ludivine Laniepce/AP)

“What just happened to us is a lesson, and we need to remain vigilant and also ready to anticipate on the modus operandi of the terrorists,” said Mr Thieba, announcing the government will put in place new measures to “protect institutions.”

The French ambassador to Burkina Faso, Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, expressed solidarity with Burkina Faso, saying: “Our political objective does not change, it remains the same: That of being on the side of Burkina Faso in the war against terrorism.”

The extremists will become more violent, reinforcing the desire for countries to work together, he said.

This attack marks a significant change of tactics from previous assaults on Ouagadougou that targeted civilians in cafes and hotels, said Sean Smith, a West Africa politics senior analyst.

Burkina Faso has become a target for Islamic extremist attacks for a few reasons, he said, especially since a popular uprising ousted former president Blaise Compaore in 2014, said Mr Smith.

“Compaore notoriously had ties to various nefarious actors in the region, which enabled him to both negotiate the release of hostages and protect his country from jihadist attacks,” he said.

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Forces guard the General Staff of the Armed Forces building after the Islamist extremist attack (Ludivine Laniepce/AP)

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, however, is “not the kind of leader that wants to make morally repugnant deals with terrorists.”

More importantly, Burkina Faso contributes more troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali than other West African nations, he said.

Several extremist groups have vowed to step up the bloodshed in response to the recent deployment of the multinational G5 Sahel force. The 5,000-strong force combines troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania to battle extremism in the region.

People on Saturday flocked around the headquarters and the French embassy to view the damage. A burned-out car remained in front of the embassy, which is riddled with bullet holes.

The embassy was attacked around 10:15am on Friday, with witnesses at the nearby state TV offices saying the attackers arrived in a pick-up truck, shouted, “Allahu akbar!” and began shooting.

French special forces helped to kill the assailants at the French embassy, security minister Sawadogo said.

The attack at the army headquarters started soon after the embassy assault and both were under control by 3pm, he said.

Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in West Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world. It shares a northern border with Mali, which has long battled Islamic extremists. Attacks have spread into Burkina Faso, and a local extremist group has also gained momentum, attacking troops and civilians.

Press Association

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