Islamist militancy rampaging Burkina Faso
Despite intense military operations throughout the region to curb the activities
of the radical groups, Islamist militancy continues to grow in the Sahel.
The militants have now opened a new front in northern Burkina Faso, disrupting
normal life by repeatedly carrying out attacks in the region and far beyond.
1. Who are the Islamists behind this new front?
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed it carried out the attacks of
January 2016 which killed 30 people in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
Although AQIM did not say it was behind the killing of the 12 soldiers in
December last year, officials believe the group was.
However, a new movement, Ansarul Islam or Defenders of Islam, has recently
emerged as the umbrella for all Islamist operations in northern Burkina Faso.
It is led by a radical imam named by officials as Ibrahim Malam Dicko.
Ansarul Islam claimed responsibility for attacks on two police stations in the
northern Soum province on 27 February.
Image caption Local and foreign forces have taken the fight to Islamists in the
Sahel but this has not stopped radical movements spreading
Dicko is a radical preacher originally from Burkina Faso’s northern city of Djibo.
He is said to have fought in Mali in the ranks of the Mujao Islamist movement
before he founded his group.
After a short spell in a Malian jail following his arrest by foreign forces in 2013,
Dicko returned home and started Ansarul Islam.
Fighters who joined his new group came from the audience admiring his fiery preaching.
Dicko is now considered a public enemy and part of the state’s official strategy to stem
his influence is to kill him.
2. How big is the threat of Islamist groups to Burkina Faso?
This poor land-locked country in West Africa has long had its share of problems, but attacks
carried out by Islamist militants against people and property are relatively new.
Image caption The siege at the Splendid Hotel was declared over after a joint operation by
local and French forces
Over the last two years, it has been rocked by a series of attacks by jihadists, with a bleak
picture for the prospects of security in the country.
There is a growing concern that Islamist militants can strike anywhere, and at any time.
3. How have Islamist militants disrupted life in Burkina Faso?
The repeated attacks have created a wave of panic across the country.
Many are concerned that the north is just a starting point for Ansarul Islam.
They fear it will spread its tentacles further if it is not stopped.
“Many homes have been deserted. In Djibo’s district 5, many homes are empty,
” a local told the BBC, asking not to be named for his safety.
“Economic activity has ground to a halt. We no longer have any night life.
Westerners who are high-value targets have left.”
Gunmen sporadically go on the rampage, looting shops and mugging people.
“When they come shooting in the air, people run away from their homes and
only return when they have left,” a resident of Inata village told the BBC.
“They don’t always kill. They often loot. We are in panic. My local school has closed.
All schools, including madrassas have closed in Soum province.”
Locals say there are more soldiers operating in the area. However, they say Islamists
have an advantage over them because they know the lay of the land.
4. What’s most troubling for officials in Burkina Faso?
Image caption Members of the disbanded presidential elite unit are thought to be
fighting alongside the militants .
Ansarul Islam movement is the first home-grown Islamist group in Burkina Faso.
That alone is troubling enough for President Rock Marc Christian Kabore’s government
but it is not the scariest thing about the threat posed by this radical group.
Intelligence officials believe some ex-soldiers of the presidential elite regiment, the RSP,
are lending them a hand.
Officials were recently quoted by a Malian newspaper as saying that they intercepted a
communication between an RSP fugitive, Boubacar Sawadogo, and Ansarul Islam’s leader.
The intercept confirmed what the government had long suspected – that former RSP
members are taking part in attacks by jihadists both in Mali and Burkina Faso.
For more than 27 years, the RSP had been a nightmare for democrats in Burkina Faso.
It was set up by former President Blaise Compaore for his personal security.
The regiment was notorious for operating outside official boundaries.
However, after the uprising which ousted Mr Compaore in 2014, it suddenly found itself
without a clear purpose and felt its existence threatened.
In a bid for survival, members staged a short-lived coup against the transitional government
before being forced to hand over power by neighbouring countries.
Fleeing justice afterwards, many RSP members including Boubacar Sawadogo took to a
Given the reported bizarre alliance with Islamist militants in the north, the RSP nightmare
has now taken on a new form.
5. What is being done about the Islamist threat?
Image caption The government has appointed a new army chief (pictured), but its response
to Ansarul Islam has been seen as indecisive
Most Burkinabes would tend to say that what the government is doing to combat Ansarul
Islam is far from enough.
There is a sense of frustration on the streets of Ouagadougou and social media forums that
the state’s response has not been decisive.
Officials have repeatedly condemned the attacks but barely did more than saying they are
taking steps. Restructuring the Defence and Security Ministries is the only concrete measure
that has been taken, and critics say it is insignificant.
The government’s hands are, however, tied by a lack of resources, both human and financial.
Following the attacks during Fespaco last month, officials appeared to have come up with a
much clearer plan.
Burkina Faso is to withdraw its contingents currently deployed abroad as part of peacekeeping
missions, such as in Sudan and Mali.
It will then reassign the returning soldiers to the fight against Ansarul Islam in the north.