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.


US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

Updated 19 April 2019
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US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

  • A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend
  • The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group

KABUL: The US envoy for peace in Afghanistan expressed disappointment on Friday after the collapse of a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar that exposed some of the deep divisions hampering efforts to end the war.
A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend. The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group, which included some government officials attending in a personal capacity.
“I’m disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, said on Twitter. “I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans.”
The collapse of the meeting before it had even started, described as a “fiasco” by one senior Western official, laid bare the tensions that have hampered moves toward opening formal peace negotiations.
Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-born diplomat, has held a series of meetings with Taliban representatives but the insurgents have so far refused to talk to the Western-backed government in Kabul, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.
The Doha meeting was intended to prepare the ground for possible future talks by building familiarity among Taliban officials and representatives of the Afghan state created after the US-led campaign that toppled the Taliban government in 2001. A similar encounter was held in Moscow in February.
President Ashraf Ghani’s office blamed Qatari authorities for the cancelation, saying they had authorized a list of participants that differed from the one proposed by Kabul, “which meant disrespect for the national will of the Afghans.”
“This act is not acceptable for the people of Afghanistan,” it said in a statement on Friday.
Sultan Barakat, director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Qatar, which had been facilitating the meeting, said there was no disagreement about the agenda.
“Rather, there is insufficient agreement around participation and representation to enable the conference to be a success,” he tweeted.
Preparations had already been undermined by disagreements on the government side about who should attend, as well as by suspicions among rival politicians ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September.
The Taliban derided the agreed list of 250 participants as a “wedding party.” Some senior opposition figures who had been included refused to attend.
The Taliban also objected to Ghani’s comments to a meeting of delegates that they would be representing the Afghan nation and the Afghan government, a statement that went against the insurgents’ refusal to deal with the Kabul administration.