Ouagadougou Rocked by Terrorist AttacksMarch 2, 2018 in Burkina Faso
On Friday 2 March, armed assailants attacked several targets in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, with reports indicating that the army headquarters and the French embassy were targeted in a coordinated assault that France’s ambassador to the West African region called a terrorist attack.
The assault began at around 10 AM (1000 GMT) on Friday, with reports emerging that gunmen had attacked the downtown army headquarters. By noon local time, residents reported that gunfire had largely ceased. Images on social media depicted billowing smoke, with witnesses reporting that the explosion rocked the army compound, setting the building on fire and sending up a thick column of black smoke. Panicked residents fled the city centre on foot or motorbikes as dozens of Burkinabe Special Forces and armoured vehicles took up positions in the area. Police also took up positions near the offices of the prime minister where gunfire was also reported. Reports have indicated that the French Embassy in Ouagadougou and a French cultural centre were also targeted. France’s ambassador to Burkina Faso Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes confirmed that the embassy compound, which is located around 2 km (1.24 miles) from the army headquarters, was under attack, though he gave no further details. While the embassy initially stated on its Facebook page that an attack was underway at the embassy as well as at Ouagadougou’s French cultural institute, embassy officials later amended the message to say that it was “not clear at this stage which sites are targeted.” Meanwhile an aide to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian disclosed that France’s embassy and cultural institute in Ouagadougou are no longer in danger. A statement released by the Elysee Palace in Paris disclosed that French President Emmanuel Macron was being kept up to date with the events in Ouagadougou. If confirmed, the French targets attacked in the country are symbolic given the fact that French President Emmanuel Macron’s choose to outline his Africa strategy, which includes the fight against Islamist militants, in November 2017 in Ouagadougou during an official visit to the region.
A Burkinabe government statement released Friday afternoon disclosed that four gunmen were “neutralized” at the French embassy, adding that operations were continuing. Government spokesman Remi Dandjinou reported that five people were killed and around 50 were wounded in the attack on the military headquarters. He added that two paramilitary gendarmes were killed defending the French embassy. A curfew is currently in place from 1800 until dawn. Anyone in the capital city is advised to remain indoors as further attacks may occur.
This is the third major terrorist attack to take place in Ouagadougou in just over two years. In recent years, Islamist militants across the region have stepped up their attacks in major cities across West Africa, with deadly assaults reported in Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Niger. Suspected jihadists killed at least eighteen people in August 2017 during a raid on a restaurant in Ouagadougou and in recent months, militants have increasingly been targeting Burkinabe security forces and local communities along its remote border region with Mali – proof that the security situation in Mali is spilling over. While there has so far been no claim of responsibility for the 2 Mach 2017 attack, previous attacks were carried out by allies of al-Qaeda in reprisal for Burkina Faso’s participation in the regional fight against Islamist militants. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for an attack on a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou in January 2016, in which thirty people were killed.