A militant jihadist group with links to al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for Friday’s deadly attacks on the army headquarters and French embassy in the capital of Burkina Faso.
The group, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), often uses Alakhbar and other Mauritanian news agencies to claim responsibility for strikes against civilian and military targets across West Africa’s Sahel region.
Alakhbar, citing a message from the group, reported that the attacks were carried out in response to the killing of one of JNIM’s leaders, Mohamed Hacen al-Ancari, in a recent raid by French forces.
France intervened in Mali in 2013 to drive back Islamist militants who had seized the country’s desert north. It retains about 4,000 troops deployed across its former colonies in the arid Sahel region as part of the anti-terror Operation Barkhane and has aggressively gone after militant group leaders.
Previous attacks in the capital and near the porous border with Mali were conducted by allies of al Qaeda in reprisal for Burkina Faso’s participation in a regional fight against Islamist militants
JNIM also recently claimed responsibility for an attack that killed two French soldiers in Mali and an attack against the Swedish contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
#BurkinaFaso: As expected, #JNIM's official statement claiming Friday's attacks against HQ of Burkina's armed forces and France's embassy in #Ouagadougou, says in response to recent killings of senior commanders in the areas of Tin-Zaouatene and Boughessa, near the DZ border pic.twitter.com/HMKo23pIQ3— MENASTREAM (@MENASTREAM) March 4, 2018
On Saturday, the Burkina Faso premier Paul Kaba Thieba toured the army headquarters and French embassy in the capital Ouagadougou, a day after attacks at those two sites left 16 people dead, including eight gunmen, and wounded 80 more.
“I bow my head to the memories of our brave soldiers who died in defence of liberty and democracy,” Thieba told reporters.
“I would like to make it clear to the terrorists that nothing will shake the Burkinabe people.”
Authorities said four gunmen were killed at army headquarters, where the assailants also detonated a car bomb, and four more were killed at the embassy. Two attackers were also captured on Friday.
Local residents were left to wonder how their country remained vulnerable to such attacks after a raid in January 2016 claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and another last August by suspected jihadists killed a total of nearly 50 people.
“If the army headquarters is totally wiped out there is a problem,” said Souleymane Traore, director of the newspaper Le Quotidien.
“We are really revolted by this insecurity and we must point the finger at those who are responsible.”
Security was reinforced near strategic sites in Ouagadougou on Saturday.
Government spokesman Remi Dandjinou told Reuters on Saturday that arrests had been made in connection with the attacks but it was unclear if he was referring to new arrests or the two that authorities had reported on Friday.