OUAGADOUGOU, March 3 (AFP): Authorities in Burkina Faso were on Saturday hunting for clues about the masterminds behind Friday’s deadly twin attacks on the French embassy and the country’s military HQ.
The coordinated attacks in Ouagadougou, which coincided with a meeting of regional anti-jihadist forces, underlined the struggle the fragile West African nation faces in containing a bloody and growing jihadist insurgency.
Eight armed forces personnel were killed, the government said, while a French security source said 12 more were seriously injured. Earlier security sources had reported a higher toll.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and while a jihadist plot is the most likely, the government was not ruling out the involvement of plotters behind a failed coup in 2015.
“This is a terrorist attack, linked to a current or another terrorist movement in the Sahel… or to others who want to are destabilise or block our democratic progress,” said communication minister Remis Fulgance Dandjinou on Saturday morning.
Two people were arrested near the headquarters, a security source told AFP.
The government said the attack on the military HQ was a suicide car bombing and that the G5 Sahel regional anti-terrorism force may have been the target.
“The vehicle was packed with explosives” and caused “huge damage”, security minister Clement Sawadogo said.
Officials from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger were at the meeting, representing the nations who have launched a joint military force to combat jihadists on the southern rim of the Sahara.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said in a statement: “Our country was once again the target of dark forces.”
The violence began mid-morning when heavy gunfire broke out in the centre of the Burkinabe capital. Witnesses said five armed men got out of a car and opened fire on passersby before heading towards the French embassy. The embassy attackers were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and were “dressed in civilian clothes” with their faces uncovered, witnessed said.
At the same time, the bomb went off near the headquarters of the Burkinabe armed forces and the French cultural centre, about a kilometre (half a mile) from the site of the first attack, other witnesses said.
A gunman who attacked the military HQ was wearing the uniform of the national army, according to a security source.
Four attackers were shot outside the French embassy and another four at the military HQ, another security source told AFP.
Paul Koalaga, a security consultant in Burkina Faso, said the attacks involved a “crescendo”.
“After soft targets, such as hotels and restaurants, this attack aimed at hard targets, strong symbols,” he said, adding there appeared to be “a problem at the intelligence level.”
The Ouagadougou prosecutor’s office appealed for witnesses “to assist in the search and identification of accomplices, hosts and any possible facilitators” of the events.