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Burkina Faso on edge after 37 killed in ambush on Canadian mining convoy

Burkina Faso is on edge after unknown gunmen killed 37 people in a mining convoy on Wednesday, in the country’s deadliest attack since an upsurge of jihadist violence began five years ago.   

The assailants ambushed buses and 4x4s carrying local workers from a gold mine run by the Canadian firm Semafo in the far-east of the country near the Niger border.

Footage from the attack shows vehicles riddled with bullets.  

The massacre comes after a string of deadly incidents including the murder of a member of parliament on Sunday.  

“The situation is really bad,” said Alex Thurston, a Sahel specialist and Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati.

“There are assassinations of local officials especially in the north, which shows a really worrying inability at a national and local authorities to control the situation.”  

Nearly 1,700 people have been killed this year and 500,000 forced to flee their homes amid almost daily attacks from ethnic-based militias and Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, Ansar ul Islam, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.  

On Monday France, the former colonial ruler, controversially announced it would station troops in Burkina Faso for the first time.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso meets with Florence Parly, French Minister of Armed Forces Credit:
AHEMED OUOBA/BURKINA FASO PRESIDENT OFFICE/AFP via Getty Images

There are currently 4,500 French soldiers spread around the Sahel to counter Islamist extremism, but many Burkinabes resent the latest deployment while the French public is increasingly weary of the drawn-out mission.   

Burkina Faso was one of the most stable countries in the region until its long-standing dictator, Blaise Compaoré, was ousted in a 2014 democratic revolution.   

Mr  Compaoré, who took power in 1987, was known to have trouble-makers executed by the side of the road and kept jihadists at bay through secretive deals struck by a vast and well-connected intelligence service.   

However, Mr Compaoré’s security forces were disbanded upon his removal and jihadist groups, sensing weakness, poured into the country from neighbouring Mali.

In 2016, Burkina Faso suffered the first major terror attack in its history.   Since then armed groups have proliferated as Islamists play different ethnicities against each other. In January 210 people were hacked and burned to death in one of a series of pogroms against the Fulani, an ethnicity of mainly herders that has been accused by other groups of having links to jihadists. 

“Domestically, the government has lost a fair amount of legitimacy,” Mr Thurston said. A poll this year showed two-thirds of the population open to the idea of Mr Compaoré returning.   

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