Targets appear to have been army HQ and locations near the offices of prime minister and UN
A number of sites in the capital of Burkina Faso have come under attack by suspected Islamist militants, including the country’s military headquarters, in what appeared to be a coordinated assault.
Burkino Faso’s police reported gunfire from several locations in Ouagadougou and said jihadi groups were thought to be behind the assault.
The attack appeared to target two locations around a kilometre apart, and video footage showing a large plume of black smoke over the city. Witnesses at the national television office, which faces the French embassy in a quarter that also houses the prime minister’s office and the UN, said that five people pulled up in front of the embassy in a pickup truck. They set fire to vehicle, shouted “Allahu Akhbar” and began shooting, they said.
The French embassy initially reported it was under attack, but later said it did not appear to be the target. “No clarity over which sites under attack,” it posted on its Facebook page.
Police said security units were deployed to the scene and urged people to stay away from the area. There was also an explosion at the nearby army headquarters, and masked gunmen were seen attacking the entrance to the building.
According to eyewitnesses the incident began about 10am local time (1000 GMT), with an explosion of one or possibly two car bombs in the car park of the army headquarters. Gunfire was heard near the French embassy at around the same time.
Burkina Faso is one of a number of fragile countries on the southern rim of the Sahara that are battling jihadi groups. The insurgency has killed thousands of people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, dealing crippling blows to economies already among the poorest in the world
Attacks have increased in frequency since 2016 when al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the al-Mourabitoun group launched an assault on a hotel and restaurant taking 170 people hostage and killing 30 in Burkina Faso’s most lethal attack. Gunmen also killed 18 people outside a Turkish restaurant in Ouagadougou last year.
The latest attack, which appears to be the boldest yet, comes against a backdrop of smaller incidents around the country that have targeted the security forces, and schools and teachers as part of the militants’ campaign for an education system based on the Qur’an.
Teachers who have been threatened have closed their classrooms and left. At least 98 schools have been closed in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region because of insecurity, according to Unicef.
The increase in violence has coincided with the formation of a new coalition of jihadi groups announced last spring, including AQIM, al-Mourabitoun and several others into the so-called Defence Group of Islam and Muslims. Some of the attacks have been linked to groups operating in the wider Sahel region.
In one of the country’s largest recent displacements, about 15,000 people in Soum province have fled their homes in the past year, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross. “This figure is far below reality because some have found shelter in households and others have refused to be registered,” said Christian Munezero, the head of the ICRC in Burkina Faso.
France, the former colonial power in the Sahel region, has deployed 4,000 troops and is supporting a five-country counterinsurgency force involving Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.