Islamic militants killed 17 civilians in a nighttime attack on a village in northern Burkina Faso, Defense Minister Cheriff Sy said.
Overnight on June 18 to 19, “an Armed Terrorist Group carried out an attack against the civilian population in the village of Belehede, Minister of National Defense and Veterans Affairs Cheriff Sy said in a Wednesday statement.
“This attack caused the death of 17 people,” Sy said.
“A vast sweep and security operation in the area was immediately launched,” Sy added, calling on the population to be extra vigilant and report any suspicious activity.
Belehede is around 200 km (125 miles) north of the capital Ouagadougou, in the Tongomayel department of Soum Province, in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel Region.
One of the poorest countries in the world, former French colony Burkina Faso lies in the heart of the sprawling, impoverished Sahel, on the southern rim of the Sahara desert.
The country has been battling an escalating wave of attacks attributed to a number of groups over the last three years, beginning in the North region near the border with Mali. Attacks have spread to the East region, near the border with Togo, Benin and Niger, and to a lesser extent, the west of the country.
Most attacks are attributed to the jihadist group Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the local ISIS affiliate.
Since May, Islamic State has attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province affiliate, rather than to what was previously known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. In a June 15 ISIS propaganda video, ISWAP militants purportedly in Burkina Faso were shown reaffirming their pledge of allegiance to ISIS.
Both Ansar ul Islam and Islamic State are active in Burkina Faso’s Sahel Region, according to a recent mapping project by the European Council on Foreign Relations.
According to a recent Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project analysis, violence by armed groups in Burkina Faso has spiked, with 499 fatalities reported from 124 direct civilian targeting events between November 1 and March 23, representing a 7,000% year-on-year rise.
On May 10, two French special forces personnel were killed in an operation that freed four foreign hostages during an overnight raid. The two soldiers killed were part of the “Task Force Sabre” unit of France’s Operation Barkhane which is based in Burkina Faso. Around 4,500 French personnel are deployed to the Sahel counter-terrorism mission.
Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside other international operations including the regional G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel.