Over the past week and a half, at least eight jihadist attacks occurred in northern Burkina Faso, near the border of Mali, as the landlocked West African nation has become a hotbed for terrorist activity. Included in those seven attacks were three ambushes with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a newly employed tactic in Burkina’s north.
The majority of these attacks, ambushes, and assassinations are thought to be the work of Ansaroul Islam, a jihadist group emerging last year in northern Burkina Faso. While on the surface Ansaroul Islam is a local Burkinabe jihadist group, it is most definitely tied to al Qaeda’s unified entity in Mali.
Ansaroul Islam was founded by Malam Ibrahim Dicko, a close ally of Amadou Kouffa, who is the leader of Ansar Dine’s Katibat Macina. Both Ansar Dine and Katibat Macina (also known as the Macina Liberation Front) were merged with al Murabitoon and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Sahara branch earlier this year to form the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM).
In posts made on its (now deleted) Facebook page, Ansaroul Islam confirmed that Dicko had met with Kouffa in the past. Jeune Afrique has reported that Dicko initially tried to link up with jihadist groups in northern Mali in 2013, but was arrested by French forces in Tessalit and then subsequently released in 2015. French forces reportedly killed Dicko earlier this year, however, details remain murky on his fate.
The first attack last week occurred on Sept. 23 near the town of Mentao, which sits south of Djibo, close to the Malian border. At least four Burkinabe troops were wounded when their vehicle hit an IED. The last IED to occur in Burkina Faso, the first ever in the country, was on Aug. 17 when three Burkinabe counter-terrorism forces were killed near Inata. The next occurred on Sept. 26, which was also an IED targeting Burkinabe counter-terrorism forces near Touronata.
On the same day, another IED hit Burkinabe gendarmerie forces between Tongomayel and Sona, who were then subjected to small arms fire. This ambush left two dead. A day later, a gendarmerie outpost was assaulted near Toeni. Over the night of Sept. 27 and Sept. 28, an assassination campaign occurred in various localities.
An imam, a local administrative official, and an elderly man were assassinated in the aforementioned Touronata. In Kahoel, another person was killed by similar gunmen. In Djibo, two gunmen killed a civilian before driving away on their motorcycle.
Meanwhile last night, another gendarmerie outpost near Nassoumbou was subjected to intense mortar shelling.
Ansaroul Islam’s ties to JNIM and the Malian jihad have become clearer over time. Ansaroul Islam is thought to have taken part in many attacks in Mali, including an assault on Malian troops near the town of Boulkessi in March. The Fhero forest in northern Burkina Faso is thought to be its staging ground for assaults across the border.
However, in July, these ties became evident when JNIM claimed its first attack in Burkinabe territory – a clear indication that Ansaroul Islam is within JNIM’s hierarchy.
Jihadists, especially al Qaeda, have historically been discreet in announcing its relationship with other, more ostensibly local organizations in the region. This was true for Ansar Dine and AQIM, wherein Ansar Dine appeared as a local jihadist group, but in actuality acted as a front group for the global jihadist organization.
Since last year, it has steadily increased its operations this year, further deteriorating the security situation in the Sahel. The use of improvised explosive devices, which was previously unknown in Burkina Faso, is on the rise. At the time of its formation, JNIM was poised to the threaten the security of the wider Sahelien region, not just Malian security, by pooling resources of the new unified entity. In many respects, this can also be seen with Ansaroul Islam.
Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.