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Al Qaeda branch in Mali claims Burkina Faso attacks

Al Qaeda’s wing in Mali, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), has claimed credit for yesterday’s large-scale attack in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. The claim of responsibility was originally published by ANI, a Mauritanian website that has often published claims by Sahara-based and Sahelien jihadists, before an official statement was released on its Telegram channel.

According to ANI, a source close to JNIM claimed yesterday’s assaults in the Burkinabe capital. At least eight gunmen launched coordinated assaults across Ouagadougou yesterday afternoon. The jihadists targeted the French embassy, as well as the Burkinabe army headquarters. At the latter target, the militants detonated a suicide car bomb before an assault team entered the fray. At least eight people were left dead and another 80 wounded.

The source reportedly said that the brazen attacks were in response to recent French raids in northern Mali. More specifically, the website mentioned, the death of Hasan al Ansari near the city of Tinzaouatene, Algeria, last month. Ansari was a co-founder of Al Murabitoon alongside Mokhtar Belmokhtar and was a founding member of JNIM last year.

While not mentioned in the report, yesterday was also the anniversary of the founding of JNIM last year.

In JNIM’s official statement, it confirms that the operation was in response to the killing of Ansari and five other senior leaders in northern Mali. Additionally, it confirms the number of reported attackers as eight. One was a suicide bomber while the other seven performed the actual assaults.

France has conducted several counter-terrorism operations across northern Mali in recent weeks. On Feb. 14, a major French operation took place which resulted in the killing or capture of over 20 jihadists belonging to JNIM near the borders with Algeria. In that operation, French forces conducted three simultaneous raids, accompanied with airstrikes, on JNIM positions near the towns of Boughessa, Mali, and Tinzaouatene in Algeria. Several senior JNIM leaders were killed in the raids, including al Ansari.

Days after the raids, French troops clashed with JNIM militants in Wadi Egharghar near Tessalit in the Kidal region. At least five JNIM militants were killed in those clashes. Shortly thereafter, two French troops were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) near Menaka in Mali’s Gao region. French troops had reportedly been conducting counter-terrorism raids in that area prior to the IED.

Last summer, suspected jihadists targeted a popular restaurant in Ouagadougou, killing 18 civilians. While JNIM is suspected of being behind that terrorist attack, no group has taken responsibility. Prior to that, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Murabitoon were responsible for an assault on the Splendid Hotel in 2016. At least 30 people were killed in that attack. Al Qaeda has also taken two hostages in the country since 2015.

Jihadist violence in Burkina Faso is on the rise since last year. This is attributable to another al Qaeda-linked organization, Ansaroul Islam. The US State Department recently designated Ansaroul Islam as a terrorist organization. As the al Qaeda-led insurgency continues to spread, and jihadist violence in Burkina Faso increases, more large-scale terrorist attacks in the country become a growing concern.

Article has been updated with new information regarding JNIM’s official claim. 

Caleb Weiss :Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.