UN envoy concerned about surge in terrorist attacks in West Africa, Sahel

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Photo courtesy: UN News

The United Nations envoy for West Africa and the Sahel says the region has experienced “a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets” in recent months.

Soldiers guard positions near the Naaba Koom military base in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, file. REUTERS/Arnaud Brunet

Mohamed Ibn Chambas told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that the “unprecedented terrorist violence” had shaken public confidence in the region.

Chambas was especially concerned about the situations in Burkina Faso and Niger. He says terrorist-attack casualties in those two countries have increased five-fold since 2016 – with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone as compared to some 770 three years earlier.

“Most significantly,” he said, “the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal States”.

He also flagged that the number of deaths in Burkina Faso jumped from about 80 in 2016 to over 1,800 last year.

Chambas noted the terrorist attacks are often deliberate efforts by violent extremists to capture weapons and trafficking routes and engage in other illicit activities, including illegal mining in certain areas that sustain their networks.

The UN envoy noted that terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence are often intertwined, stressing “this is especially true in peripheral areas where the state’s presence is weak” as in those places extremists provide safety and protection to populations in exchange for loyalty.

Therefore, he stressed counter-terrorism response must focus on gaining the trust and support of local populations.

He also called upon regional and subregional leaders to follow through on their pledges and upon international partners to lend their full support to the implementation of existing mechanisms with regard to counter-terrorism efforts in the region.