With at least 160 people killed, the massacre in the city of Solhan during the night from Friday to Saturday is the deadliest attack in recent history in Burkina Faso. The events occur when the horror of jihadism reappears in the country.
Burkina Faso continues to pay a high price in the fight against extremism. On the night of Friday 4 to Saturday 5 June, the north of the country was hit with one of the darkest episodes of violence in recent years when a group of jihadists launched an attack on civilians in the village of Solhan, in the province. of Yagha, in the Sahel.
The extremists fired indiscriminately at men, women and children and set dozens of houses, hospitals and the market on fire, according to the government.
At least 160 people died, including 20 minors, and dozens more were injured. Many of them had to be transferred to hospitals in the city of Dori and to Ouagadougou, the capital of the country.
“There were at least 160 deaths. This figure could increase because there are survivors who still have no news of their relatives or acquaintances,” an officer of the Armed Forces General Staff told the EFE agency, who asked to keep their identity.
According to security sources cited by RFI, the age of the victims varies between 8 months and 45 years. The vast majority are young. In Burkina Faso, about 80% of the population is under 35 years of age.
An aid worker in Sebba, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said more than 40 people suffered gunshot wounds and burns while trying to escape the attack.
In addition, about 800 civilians fled to the nearby city of Sebba, according to a report by humanitarian workers in the area, cited by AP.
The increase in jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso since 2015
Friday’s night of horror does not correspond to an isolated event but to the aggravation of terror to which civilians in the country have been subjected, especially since 2015.
Since then, Burkina Faso’s ill-equipped and poorly trained Army has been fighting to stop a jihadist insurgency, linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State, but is often unable to repel the assaults.
All parties to the conflict, and anyone else taking part in the violence, must respect and protect civilians, and ensure safe and rapid access to health care for the wounded and the sick. #BurkinaFaso pic.twitter.com/hcJWrntKxV
– ICRC (@ICRC) June 6, 2021
While no group has claimed responsibility for the deadly assault, security experts in the Sahel indicate that this attack was likely carried out by the al-Qaeda-linked group JNIM, which has recently strengthened its position in the area and is the most influential movement in the province. This was explained by Heni Nsaibia, principal investigator in the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project.
“After the attack in Solhan, the assailants also placed explosives to prevent access by the Army, both the geographical aspect and the use of explosives in this way is not typical of the Islamic State, but the JNIM modus operandi,” he explained.
The attack comes just weeks after the visit to the region by Burkina Faso Defense Minister Chérif Sy, who had praised an improvement in the security situation. “The sequence is unsettling. Indeed, the Defense Minister had been reckless in observing a form of return to normalcy and had also visited the Sebba detachment on this occasion, “explained journalist Vincent Hugeux to France 24.
In the recent assault, the armed forces reportedly arrived an hour or two after the jihadists left. “The massacres were able to carry out their work of death undisturbed while there are military units that are supposed to be about twenty kilometers away,” Hugeux added.
The rise of volunteer combatants who put civilians in greater danger
Against this background, volunteer community fighters have emerged in the area who are trying to stop the extremists with the help of the Army.
But since the program began last year, volunteers have become both perpetrators of attacks against civilians and targets for jihadists, who accuse them of supporting the military. Civilians are caught in the middle of this spiral of violence.
Assailants have killed 100+ people in Burkina Faso. “The government enlisted the help of volunteer militiamen to help the army but they have incurred retaliation by the rebels who attack them and the communities they help.” https://t.co/uWP9aWKyge pic.twitter.com/7EpViHxml3
– Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) June 5, 2021
Specifically, the attack on Solhan village is believed to have been the jihadists’ response to the actions of community fighters. In fact, the first objective of the assault on Friday was a post of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP), auxiliaries of the Armed Forces in the framework of the fight against terrorism.
“The militarization of the war on terrorism has created more insecurity than profit, and both sides, jihadists and pro-state militias, are targeting civilians,” said Tanguy Quidelleur, Ph.D. candidate of the Institute of Social and Political Sciences, who has researched on self-defense groups in the Sahel.
The country had experienced relative calm in recent months, after a secret ceasefire was reached between JNIM and the government. Earlier this year, the jihadists said they were ordered to lay down their weapons and that they do not understand the recent increase in fighting.
“I think there are attacks again because there are new people recruited by the group and (…) not all those who left their weapons returned to the community,” a former jihadist who left the group in October told the AP.
Amid the outbreak of violence, the nation has endured the world’s fastest-growing forced displacement crisis, with more than 1.2 million people forced from their homes. Since 2015, jihadism has killed more than 1,400 people.
With AP, Reuters and EFE