Investigators probe deadly twin attacks in Burkina Faso

A cyclist watches military personnel outside the headquarters of the country's defence forces in Ouagadougou on Mar. 3, 2018 a day after a dozen of people were killed in twin attacks on the French embassy and the country's military. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2018
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Investigators probe deadly twin attacks in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU: Authorities in Burkina Faso were on Saturday hunting for clues about the masterminds behind Friday’s deadly twin attacks on the French embassy and the country’s military HQ.
The coordinated attacks in Ouagadougou, which coincided with a meeting of regional anti-extremist forces, underlined the struggle the fragile West African nation faces in containing a bloody and growing terrorist insurgency.
Eight armed forces personnel were killed, the government said, while a French security source said 12 more were seriously injured. Earlier security sources had reported a higher toll.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and while a terrorist plot is the most likely, the government was not ruling out the involvement of plotters behind a failed coup in 2015.
“This is a terrorist attack, linked to a current or another terrorist movement in the Sahel... or to others who want to destabilize or block our democratic progress,” said communication minister Remis Fulgance Dandjinou on Saturday morning.
Two people were arrested near the headquarters, a security source told AFP.
The government said the attack on the military HQ was a suicide car bombing and that the G5 Sahel regional anti-terrorism force may have been the target.
“The vehicle was packed with explosives” and caused “huge damage,” Security Minister Clement Sawadogo said.
Prime minister Paul Kaba Thieba described “truly apocalyptic scenes” in the aftermath of the attack.
He said the terrorists had targeted both France and Burkina Faso in an attempt to divide the two countries.
“Obviously that will not happen.”
Officials from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger had gathered for a G5 Sahel meeting, an anti-terrorist group designed to combat extremists on the southern rim of the Sahara.
The location of the meeting was changed at the last moment, Sawadogo said, adding the room they had been due to use at the military HQ was blown up.
“Perhaps it was the target. We do not know at the moment. In any case the room was literally destroyed by the explosion,” the minister added
The violence began mid-morning when heavy gunfire broke out in the center of the Burkinabe capital.
Witnesses said five men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles got out of a car and opened fire on passersby before heading toward the French embassy.
They were “dressed in civilian clothes” with their faces uncovered, witnesses said.
At the same time, the bomb went off near the headquarters of the Burkinabe armed forces and the French cultural center, about a kilometer (half a mile) from the site of the first attack.
A gunman who attacked the military HQ was wearing the uniform of the national army, according to a security source.
Four attackers were shot outside the French embassy and another four at the military HQ, another security source told AFP.
“After soft targets, such as hotels and restaurants, this attack aimed at hard targets, strong symbols,” Paul Koalaga, a security consultant in Burkina Faso said, adding there appeared to be “a problem at the intelligence level.”
The G5 Sahel force aims to train 5,000 troops and to be fully operational by the end of the month.
It has already carried out operations against terrorist fighters with help from the French army.
Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger’s president and the current chair of the group, said Friday’s attacks “will only strengthen the resolve of the G5-Sahel and its allies in the fight against terrorism.”
French President Emmanuel Macron offered his condolences, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is on a visit to neighboring Mali, “strongly condemned” the attack while UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an “urgent and concerted effort” to improve stability in the Sahel.
The insurgency in the region has caused thousands of deaths, prompted tens of thousands to flee their homes and dealt crippling blows to economies that are already among the poorest in the world.
Burkina Faso has been the target of extremist attacks since 2015, and this is the third time in two years that Ouagadougou is the target of terrorist attacks targeting places frequented by Westerners.
On Aug. 13 last year, two assailants opened fire on a restaurant on the capital’s main avenue, killing 19 people and wounding 21. No one has so far claimed responsibility for it.
On Jan. 15, 2016, 30 people — including six Canadians and five Europeans — were killed in an extremist attack on a hotel and restaurant in the city center.
That attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Murabitoun group, which was led by the one-eyed Algerian terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
A group called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) also said some of its militants were involved.


At least 161 dead in northeast Congo in apparent ethnic clashes

Updated 17 June 2019
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At least 161 dead in northeast Congo in apparent ethnic clashes

  • A series of attacks in Ituri province has mostly targeted Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers over grazing rights and political representation
  • Open conflict between Hema and Lendu from 1999-2007 resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths in one of the bloodiest chapters of a civil war in eastern Congo

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo: At least 161 people have been killed in a northeastern province of Democratic Republic of Congo in the past week, local officials said on Monday, in an apparent resurgence of ethnic clashes between farming and herding communities.
A series of attacks in Ituri province has mostly targeted Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers over grazing rights and political representation, although the exact identity of the assailants remains murky.
Open conflict between Hema and Lendu from 1999-2007 resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths in one of the bloodiest chapters of a civil war in eastern Congo that left millions dead from conflict, hunger and disease.
Tit-for-tat attacks between the two groups in late 2017 and early 2018 killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands more to flee their homes, but a tenuous calm had taken hold until this month.
Pascal Kakoraki Baguma, a national lawmaker from Ituri, said the latest violence was sparked by the killing last Monday of four Lendu businesspeople.
“Members of the Lendu community believed that these assassinations were the work of the Hema,” Kakoraki said. “This is why they launched several attacks on Hema villages.”
“Sources affirm that 161 bodies have been found so far. But the death toll goes beyond the bodies recovered, as there were other massacres of civilians and police officers,” he said.
Jean Bosco Lalo, president of civil society organizations in Ituri, said 200 bodies had been found since last week in predominantly Hema villages, including the 161 mentioned by Kakoraki. Lalo said the toll would rise once his teams gained access to other villages where killings had been reported.
Ituri Governor Jean Bamanisa said provincial authorities were still working to establish the exact death toll and declined to say who was responsible.
He said the assailants’ tactics were to “empty out the villages, burn them and pursue those who had fled to the surrounding areas with bladed weapons.”
Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in January, is trying to restore stability to the country’s eastern borderlands, a tinderbox of conflict among armed groups over ethnicity, natural resources and political power.
Several rebel leaders have surrendered or been captured during his first months in office, but armed violence has persisted, particularly in North Kivu province, south of Ituri, which is the epicenter of a 10-month Ebola outbreak.