Terror in the Sahel: Attacks in Burkina Faso Leave Dozens Dead

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By: Guadi Calvo / Source: Rebelion / The Dawn News / March 8, 2018

People watch as black smoke rises following series of attacks in Burkinabe capital on Friday. Photograph: Ahmed Ouoba/AFP/Getty Images

While French and North American troops have been fighting for years in the north of Mali and Niger in search of mujahideens linked to Al-Qaeda or Daesh, last Friday, in the diplomatic neighborhood of Ouagadougou city, the capital of Burkina Faso, some 900 km south of those areas, there was a simultaneous attack on the French embassy and the Army headquarters. The attack was perpetrated by an undetermined number of militants, causing between 18 and 42 deaths and wounding nearly a hundred.

It is believed the attack might have targeted a meeting of the G5-Sahel, an organization founded in 2014 by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, in order to coordinate and monitor initiatives of regional cooperation for development and security, which also manages the contributions made by Western powers for the “war on terror” in that region. The meeting place, which was initially the Army headquarters, had been changed at the last minute, saving the lives of the participants, because the conference room where they were supposed to meet was completely destroyed by the attack.

The armed assault was quickly contained by local special units of defense and security and the embassy guard, and rapidly reinforced by units of the French special commands of the Sabre unit, stationed in the city.

Just 24 hours after the double attack, a communiqué was released by the Jama’at Nusrat-ul-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group to Support Islam and Muslims), the official branch of Al-Qaeda in Mali, claiming authorship of the attack, which they said was an act of revenge for an operation by the French troops in Mali, where one of their commanders, sheikh Mohammed Hassan al-Ansari, was killed. Jama’at Nusrat, which was founded one year ago, is led by a veteran Tuareg fighter, Iyad Ag-Ghali, who used to command the Ansar Eddine (Defenders of the Faith) organization. This organization is made up by several integrationist groups that have a significant presence across the Sahel, with epicenters in northern Mali and Niger—where, “coincidentally”, there are important fields and mines of uranium that belong to French companies. The creation of Jama’at Nusrat also caused concern for the security of European countries of the Mediterranean coast.

Hassan al-Ansari was one of the closest collaborators of Algerian Mojtar Belmojtar, one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, a historical leader of Wahhabi fundamentalism in Africa, veteran of Afghanistan’s anti-soviet war, and intellectual author of innumerable attacks in his country and in a vast area of the Sahel.

In last Friday’s attack, at least eight Burkinabe officials and seven attackers died, while the names of other deceased have not yet been disclosed. This attack is the third one on the capital in the last two years. In January 2016, the targets were the Splendid Hotel Casino and the Cappuccino Cafe, which left over 30 dead and 180 wounded. Authorship of this attack was claimed by Belmokhtar’s group, called al-Murabitun (Those Who Sign With Blood), which was then under Al-Qaeda For Islamic Maghreb and is currently a part of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims.

In August 2017, another bloody attack against Turkish restaurant Aziz Istanbul, which is 200 meters away from the Cappuccino Café, killed 18 and wounded 20, although the attackers were never identified.

These have not been the only fundamentalist attacks in the country. There have been over 80, although increasingly less deadly. Since 2015, the body count is 135.

One curious detail is that Friday’s attackers were wearing military uniforms, according to declarations by Colonel John Arthur Diasso, director of communications of the Ministry of Defense. It is still unclear whether these uniforms had been purchased or were some of the 400 uniforms that had been stolen from a military outfitters store in March 2017.

On Monday 26, a trial had begun against a large amount of militaries involved in the 2015 coup attempt against the Burkina Faso government, so another hypothesis is that Friday’s attack might be related to the trials.

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