Islamic State on Friday said its West Africa Province affiliate was behind an attack that killed seven soldiers at their base in northern Burkina Faso.
ISIS did not say that ISWAP was responsible however for a simultaneous assault Tuesday, December 24 on the nearby city of Arbinda in Soum province that left 35 civilians dead, including 31 women.
The overall death toll of 42 was one of the highest suffered in Burkina Faso since jihadist violence erupted there five years ago, and President Roch Marc Christian Kabore declared two days of national mourning.
An ISWAP suicide driver blew up his vehicle at the base in Hallele, about 60 km (37 miles) from Arbina. The base was then attacked “by more than 200 heavily armed individuals in pick-up trucks and on motorcycles,” a security source told AFP.
Intense fighting that lasted several hours “killed seven elements” among the Burkina troops, according to the ISIS claim.
One of the poorest countries in the world, former French colony Burkina Faso lies in the heart of the sprawling, impoverished Sahel, on the southern rim of the Sahara desert.
The country has been battling an escalating wave of attacks over the last three years, beginning in the North Region near the border with Mali. Attacks have spread to the East Region, near the border with Togo, Benin and Niger, and to a lesser extent, the west of the country.
Most insurgent attacks are attributed to the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and to Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016. Since May, Islamic State has attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province affiliate, rather than to what was previously known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
The country’s badly equipped, poorly trained and underfunded security forces have been unable to stem the violence, which has intensified throughout 2019.
Burkina Faso’s previous deadliest attack was in January 2016, when jihadists raided the Splendid Hotel and a cafe in the capital Ouagadougou, killing 30 people, around half of them foreign nationals.
In August this year, the army suffered its worst attack with 24 soldiers killed in an assault on a base in Koutougou that was later claimed by ISWAP.
On November 4, an attack on a base in northern Burkina Faso killed at least five gendarmes and five civilians. Two days later dozens of people were killed in an attack on a convoy transporting local employees of Canadian mining company Semafo, third deadly assault apparently targeting the company in 15 months.
The bloodshed prompted French forces from Operation Barkane and its Sahel partners in mid-November to launch a 17-day operation against ‘armed terrorist groups’ in Burkina Faso and Mali.
With reporting from AFP