Suspected jihadists have massacred at least 114 civilians in Burkina Faso’s volatile north in the deadliest attacks since Islamist violence erupted in the West African country in 2015, officials said Saturday.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore denounced an attack near the borders with Mali and Niger where jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have been targeting civilians and soldiers.
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“We must remain united and solid against these obscurantist forces,” Kabore said, condemning a massacre that left at least 100 people dead in Solhan as “barbaric” and “despicable.”
The worst attack occurred during the night of Friday to Saturday when “armed individuals staged an incursion” into Solhan, a security source said.
“The toll, which is still provisional, is about 100 dead, men and woman of different ages”, the source said with the government confirming the toll.
Assailants struck around 2:00 am (0200 GMT) against a position of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Motherland (VDP), an anti-jihadist civilian defence force that backs the national army, before attacking homes and carrying out “executions,” a local source said.
The VDP was set up in December 2019 to help Burkina’s poorly-equipped military fight jihadists but it has suffered more than 200 fatalities, according to an AFP tally.
The volunteers are given two weeks’ military training, and then work alongside the security forces, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.
The government said in a statement that “terrorists,” a term for jihadists, killed civilians of all ages and set fire to homes and the main market.
“In addition to the heavy human toll, the worst recorded to date, homes and the market were set on fire,” another security source said, voicing concern that the “still temporary toll of a hundred dead may increase.”
The authorities have declared three days of national mourning, ending Monday night at 11:59 pm.
Solhan, a small community around 15 kilometres from Sebba, the main city in Yagha province, has been hit with numerous attacks in recent years.
On May 14, Defence Minister Cheriff Sy and military top brass visited Sebba to assure people that life had returned to normal, following a number of military operations.
The massive attack by suspected jihadists came hours after another attack Friday evening on Tadaryat village in the same region, which claimed the lives of at least 14 people, including an armed volunteer who had come to help them.
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has struggled to fight back against increasingly frequent and deadly jihadist attacks from groups including the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS).
The attacks first started in the north near the Mali border, but have since spread to other regions, particularly in the east.
Around 1,400 people have died and more than a million have fled their homes. (AFP)