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Burkina Faso’s attack inquiry focuses on likely ‘G5 Sahel’ target

Security tightened in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou after repeated Islamic jihadist attacks

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast —French and Burkina Faso’s investigators on Monday pushed ahead with an inquiry into deadly jihadist attacks last week suspected to have targeted a major anti-terror meeting.

During the operation, the suspects used guns and a car bomb, striking the country’s military headquarters and the French embassy.

According to sources, teams of forensic experts were at work at the scenes of last Friday’s twin attack in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, and two suspects were being questioned.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), led by the Malian jihadist Iyad Ag Ghaly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nine assailants and seven soldiers were killed and at least 80 people were injured, according to a government tally.

One of the two suspects is believed to have played a key role in the operation, Burkinabe investigators said, adding that clues the attackers had information from within the armed forces “are starting to be confirmed”.

The attack on the military headquarters seems to have been aimed at a scheduled meeting of the so-called G5 Sahel — a French-backed group of five countries fighting jihadism in the volatile Saharan region.

French police and judicial sources have confirmed that a team of 10 French experts has arrived to support the inquiry.

President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe visited briefly on Monday, meeting with Burkinabe counterpart Roch Marc Christian Kabore and visiting the sites of the attacks.

Issoufou is the current head of the G5 Sahel, which comprises Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, while Gnassingbe is current chairman of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.

Togo’s president Gnassingbe urged the G5 Sahel force which comprises 5,000 men to become operational “swiftly”.

Sahel regional defense sources say the force should be fully operational in mid-2018, and it will operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the area as well as the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.

Burkina Faso has been the target of jihadist attacks since 2015.

On January 15, 2016, 30 people — including six Canadians and five Europeans — were killed in a jihadist attack on a hotel and restaurant in the city center.

On August 13 last year, two terrorists opened fire on a restaurant on the capital’s main avenue, killing 19 people and wounding 21.

GSIM also claimed responsibility for a February 21 attack near the border with Niger which left two French soldiers dead and a third injured in an area which is believed to shelter jihadists.

Regional security experts say there is a serious drive by international terrorist groups to install Islamic States and impose Sharia Law on as many West African countries.   Financiers of terrorism also want all sub-Sahara countries to have leaders who are Muslims, according to a security intelligence expert who preferred anonymity.

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.

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