Jihadists strike across West Africa

A terrorist attack in the West African country of Burkina Faso has left at least 18 people dead and many others wounded in the capital Ouagadougou late last night. Not long after, UN troops in two different regions of Mali fell under attack. No group has yet to claim responsibility, but the assaults mirror similar attacks conducted by al Qaeda in the region.

Late last night, three gunmen drove up to the Aziz Istanbul restaurant in downtown Ouagadougou killing many bystanders near the restaurant before entering. Inside, the suspected jihadists killed many others while also taking hostages. This prompted a siege by Burkinabe security forces which killed the attackers. According to Burkina Faso officials, civilians from Canada, Lebanon, Kuwait, Algeria, France, Senegal, Nigeria, and Turkey were killed by the gunmen.

Local residents have reported that the Turkish restaurant was popular with Western residents and visitors. This is likely the reason that the restaurant was targeted.

Yesterday’s assault is similar to other al Qaeda attacks on Western targets in the region in the past. Earlier this year, its branch in West Africa killed five people at a popular resort outside Mali’s capital of Bamako.

Last January, al Qaeda killed 20 after assaulting the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou with two car bombs before breaching the perimeter and entering the hotel. In addition to hitting the hotel, a nearby restaurant was also targeted. Over 30 hostages were freed before the situation was contained. [See Threat Matrix report, Al Qaeda attacks hotel in Burkina Faso.]

Two months later, jihadists from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) laid siege to a popular resort in the Ivory Coast. At least 14 civilians and two soldiers were killed when gunmen stormed a nearby beach and then the resort.

Before that, AQIM’s Sahara Emirate and Al Murabitoon attacked Mali’s capital of Bamako in November 2015. In that offensive, the jihadists stormed the Radisson Blue in Bamako, killing 22 civilians and taking more than 100 people hostage before being killed in a joint raid led by Malian forces. Al Murabitoon said it was responsible in conjunction with the “Sahara Emirate” of AQIM, according to a statement sent to Al Jazeera. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Al Qaeda group claims credit for attack on hotel in Mali’s capital.]

The Sahara Emirate and Murabitoon would later merge with two local al Qaeda groups, Ansar Dine and its Katibat Macina, to form the Group of Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM).

Not long after yesterday’s assault in Burkina Faso, suspected jihadists from JNIM also launched an attack on UN forces near Douentza in the central Mopti region. The UN’s mission to Mali reported that one of its peacekeepers from an unspecified country and one Malian soldier was killed. Around the same time, the UN’s base in the northern city of Timbuktu fell under a coordinated attack.

Reuters reported earlier that eight people were killed, including a UN peacekeeper, five Malian security guards, a Malian gendarme, and one civilian. UN and Swedish forces elsewhere in the city were deployed to contain the situation.

These assaults serve as a reminder of al Qaeda’s capabilities to strike across the region. This comes even with a French counter-terrorism operation and a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali. Al Qaeda’s operational capacity in Mali and the wider West African region has not only remained intact, but is also expanding.

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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3 Comments

  • Steve Silverman says:

    Fits their strategy of attacks in small doses spread over many locations. Over time this divide and conquer strategy will financially and militarily break their enemy.

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