16 killed in Burkina Faso mosque attack by extremists

OUAGADOUGOU • Armed men stormed a mosque in the volatile north of Burkina Faso as worshippers were at prayer, killing 16 people and sending residents fleeing, security sources and locals said.

The attack on the Grand Mosque in the town of Salmossi last Friday evening underscores the difficulties faced by the country in its battle against Islamist extremists.

One source said 13 people died on the spot in the attack by the extremists and three succumbed to their injuries later. Two of the wounded are in critical condition.

"Since this morning, people have started to flee the area," one resident from the nearby town of Gorom-Gorom said on Saturday.

He added that there was a "climate of panic despite military reinforcements" that were deployed after the deadly attack.

Although hit by extremist violence, many Burkinabes oppose the presence of foreign troops - notably from former colonial ruler France - on their territory.

On Saturday, a crowd of about 1,000 people marched in the capital, Ouagadougou, "to denounce terrorism and the presence of foreign military bases in Africa".

Said Mr Gabin Korbeogo, one of the co-organisers of the march: "Terrorism has now become an ideal pretext for installing foreign military bases in our country.

"The French, American, Canadian, German and other armies have set foot in our sub-region, saying they want to fight terrorism. But despite this massive presence... the terrorist groups... are growing stronger."

Until 2015, the poor West African country of Burkina Faso was largely spared the violence that hit Mali and then Niger, its neighbours to the north.

But extremists - some linked to Al-Qaeda, others to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group - started infiltrating the north, then the east, and then endangered the southern and western borders of the landlocked country.

Combining guerrilla hit-and-run tactics with road mines and suicide bombings, the insurgents have killed nearly 600 people, according to a toll compiled by Agence France-Presse.

Civil society groups put the number at more than 1,000, with attacks now taking place on almost a daily basis.

Burkina Faso's defence and security forces are badly equipped, poorly trained and have shown themselves to be unable to put a halt to the increasing violence. France has a force of 200 in Burkina Faso but also intervenes frequently as part of its regional Barkhane operation.

Almost 500,000 people have fled their homes because of the violence, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which has warned of a humanitarian crisis affecting 1.5 million people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2019, with the headline '16 killed in Burkina Faso mosque attack by extremists'. Print Edition | Subscribe