A Mali-based al Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility on Saturday for attacks in neighbouring Burkina Faso that left 16 people dead, including eight gunmen, at the army headquarters and French embassy, Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar reported.
The group, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), often uses Alakhbar and other Mauritanian news agencies to claim responsibility for strikes against civilian and military targets across West Africa’s Sahel region.
Alakhbar, citing a message from the group, reported that the attacks were carried out in response to the killing of one of JNIM’s leaders, Mohamed Hacen al-Ancari, in a recent raid by French forces.
France intervened in Mali in 2013 to drive back Islamist militants who had seized the country’s desert north. It retains about 4,000 troops deployed across its former colonies in the arid Sahel region as part of the anti-terror Operation Barkhane and has aggressively gone after militant group leaders.
Jihadist groups have regrouped since the French intervention in 2013. They have expanded their operations deep into central Mali, which they have used as a launchpad to strike Burkina Faso, Niger and other regional countries.
Burkinabe authorities said four gunmen were killed at army headquarters, where the assailants also detonated a car bomb, and four more were killed at the embassy. Two attackers were also captured on Friday.
Local residents were left to wonder how their country remained vulnerable to such attacks.
“If the army headquarters is totally wiped out there is a problem,” said Souleymane Traore, director of the newspaper Le Quotidien.
“We are really revolted by this insecurity and we must point the finger at those who are responsible.”