Gunmen have killed at least 132 people in volatile northern Burkina Faso, the government said, as the head of the United Nations condemned “the alleged attack” and called on countries to step up the fight against “extremism violent “.
The assailants attacked during the night on Friday and killed residents in the village of Solhan in Yagha province, which borders Niger. They also burned houses and the village market, according to a government statement on Saturday.
Among the victims were seven children.
Another 40 residents were also injured, government spokesman Ousseni Tamboura told reporters.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore called the killings “barbaric” and said the people of Burkina Faso “must remain united and solid against these obscurantist forces”.
No group has claimed so far.
Nocturnal aggression was the deadliest recorded in years in Burkina Faso.
Since 2015, the West African country has struggled to fight increasingly frequent and deadly attacks by groups linked to al-Qaeda and, more recently, ISIL (ISIS). The attacks first began in the north, near the border with Mali, but have since spread to other regions, especially in the east, causing one of the most acute humanitarian crises in the world.
Some 1.2 million people in Burkina Faso have been forced to flee their homes due to the long conflict, as armed groups intensify attacks on the army and civilians despite the presence of thousands of French troops and others. international and regional forces throughout the Sahel.
“Unacceptable human toll”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “outraged” by the killings in Burkina Faso and offered the country the “full support” of the world body.
Guterres “strongly condemns the alleged attack and stresses the urgent need for the international community to redouble its support for member states in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll,” its spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
Burkina Faso has now declared 72 hours of mourning in the country.
In Solhan, a local source told AFP that the assailants were hired around 2:00 am (2:00 GMT) against a position of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP), a force of civil defense supporting the national army.
They then attacked houses and carried out “executions,” the source said.
The VDP was set up in December 2019 to help Burkina Faso’s ill-equipped military fight against armed groups, but has claimed more than 200 lives, according to an AFP account. Volunteers only receive two weeks of military training before deploying them to work alongside the security forces. They usually perform surveillance tasks, gather information or escort.
Corrine Dufka, West Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said Solhan’s attack followed a family pattern seen elsewhere in the Sahel this year.
“The dynamic is the [armed groups] come in, dominate the civil defense site and pledge to punish the rest of the people collectively, “Dufka said.
For example, in neighboring Niger, armed attackers killed 137 people in March for what analysts and advocacy groups said could have been revenge for the killings of self-defense groups in the area or for the arrests of people suspected of belonging to armed groups.
Dufka said Friday’s attack increased the number of people killed by armed groups in the Sahel region from January to more than 500. Most of the killings were committed by fighters from the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara. added.
There are likely to be more attacks
The attack on Solhan came just weeks after Defense Minister Cheriff Sy and other military personnel visited the neighboring town of Sebba to assure people that life had returned to normal, after several military operations in the area, according to Nicolas Haque, of Al Jazeera.
“There was also a military barracks not far from where the attack took place,” Haque said. “It simply came to our notice then. They never got to the scene. It’s the feeling that people across the Sahel now share: that they can’t rely on their security forces to protect them. “
With the security situation deteriorating, analysts have said more violent attacks are likely to occur in Burkina Faso and neighboring countries.
“It’s a terrible massacre that has happened. And I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for more similar types of reports, “said Alex Vines, director of the Africa Program for international think tank Chatham House.
“It’s a hot spot. This is the border area of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where there is very significant displacement and violence … Governments are increasingly weak and ineffective. And they don’t provide the security that populations need. And so, the armed groups … are filling these gaps. “
Vines told Al Jazeera that the rise in violence in the Sahel has worries other West African countries.
“Everything is very serious and extends to regions. It’s not just about the Sahel, “he said. “There are safety incidents due to excessive spills now in countries along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. So, think Benin, think Togo. Ghanaians are especially concerned about what is happening on its border with Burkina Faso. Ivory Coast, too. This is becoming a growing international problem. “