Burkina Faso Attack Puts West Africa on Edge over Jihadist Threat

By Rogo, Paula | The Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2016 | Go to article overview

Burkina Faso Attack Puts West Africa on Edge over Jihadist Threat


Rogo, Paula, The Christian Science Monitor


As residents of Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, ended three days of national mourning yesterday after its first-ever terrorist attack this weekend, questions remain on whether such violence would become the city's new normal.

Gunmen seized and opened fire on two hotels and a restaurant frequented by foreigners in Ouagadougou Friday Night, killing at least 29, and injuring up to 50 people. The number of gunmen is in dispute, but Security Minister Simon Compaore said Tuesday that several people have been detained and questioned.

The attack shook the relatively peaceful Francophone country, which has had little experience with terror groups despite sharing borders with Mali to the north and Niger to the east. Both countries have dealt with their fair share of jihadi extremists.

But with Al Qaeda's North African affiliate (AQIM) claiming responsibility of the Burkinabe assault, it fulfills a prophecy that Islamist extremism would grow outward in Africa and reach new frontiers that have previously avoided its impact. Indeed, AQIM's move into Burkina Faso indicates a strategy to find new targets, forcing other West African nations like Ghana, Senegal, and Ivory Coast to increase their security. France has warned Ivory Coast and Senegal that Islamist militants are planning to attack on their capitals.

"There's no reason to think Burkina Faso should be the last country hit," said Cynthia Ohayon, a West Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group in Ouagadougu, told South Africa's Times Live. "If you strike the capital, you are seen to be striking harder and the threat is there for other cities like [Senegal's] Dakar and [Ivory Coast's] Abidjan."

The threat of Islamist terrorism continues to be a top priority in Africa as the battle for ideological dominance between Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (IS) plays out in the continent. And though countries like Senegal have taken steps to try counter growing extremism, it is not clear whether Burkina Faso is ready to confront the new threat on their doorstep. The largely Muslim country has stumbled through a tumultuous political year that included the overthrow of former President Blaise Compaore in 2014, a failed coup in September, and the election of President President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in November.

"... The recent siege in Ouagadougou has proved that Burkina Faso is now affected by radical Islam, while spill-over of Malian Jihadists into the country's northern regions seems like an already materialized scenario," writes Olga Bogorad, an Africa intelligence analyst at Max Security Solutions, in South Africa's Daily Maverick. …

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