Armed assailants have killed about 100 civilians in an overnight attack on a village in northern Burkina Faso, the government said, in what is the deadliest assault to hit the conflict-hit country in years.
The attackers struck during the night on Friday, killing residents of the village of Solhan in Yagha province bordering Niger, spokesman Ousseni Tamboura said in a statement on Saturday. The local market and several homes were also burned down in the area towards the border of Niger, he added.
The statement described the attackers as “terrorists” and said their “crimes will not go unpunished”. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“We must remain united and solid against these obscurantist forces,” President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said, condemning the attack as “barbaric” and “despicable”. The government has declared a 72-hour period of national mourning.
A local who did not want to be named, fearing for his safety, was visiting relatives in a medical clinic in Sebba town, approximately 12km (7 miles) from where the attack occurred. He said he saw many wounded people enter the clinic.
“I saw 12 people in one room and about 10 in another. There were many relatives caring for the wounded. There were also many people running from Solhan to enter Sebba … People are very afraid and worried,” he told The Associated Press news agency by phone.
Solhan, a small community about 15 kilometres (9 miles) 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.
“There is a growing sense among many people in Burkina Faso that despite the presence of security forces, the situation is deteriorating,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Bamako in neighbouring Mali.
Last year, the government enlisted the help of volunteer militiamen to help the army but they have incurred retaliation by the rebels who attack them and the communities they help.
Burkina Faso has been gripped by a deepening security crisis that has spread across the western part of the Sahel region in recent years, causing one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises.
Some 1.2 million people in Burkina Faso have been forced to flee their homes because of the long-running conflict, as armed groups with links to al-Qaeda and ISIL step up attacks on the army and civilians despite the presence of thousands of French troops and other international and regional forces across the Sahel.
“It is clear that militant groups have shifted up gears to aggravate the situation in Burkina Faso, and moved their efforts to areas outside the immediate reach of the French-led counter-terrorism coalition fighting them in the tri-state border region,” Heni Nsaibia, senior researcher at Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, told AP, referring to the border areas of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali where local authorities have been overrun.
Armed groups have driven religious and ethnic tensions between farming and herding communities in the three countries to boost recruitment among marginalised communities.