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35 civilians, including 31 women, killed in Burkina Faso militant attack Open in fullscreen

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35 civilians, including 31 women, killed in Burkina Faso militant attack

Most of the victims of Wednesday's attack were women who 'were getting water' [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 December, 2019

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Burkina Faso's president has declared two days of national mourning after one of the worst attacks in the west African nation's modern history.
Thirty-five civilians, almost all of them women, were killed in a suspected extemist militant attack in nothern Burkina Faso on Wednesday.

In one of the deadliest assaults in the West African nation in the last five years, 80 militants, as well as 7 soldiers were killed in the double attack on a military base and the town of Arbinda, in Soum province.

The army chief of staff said in a statement, "A large group of terrorists simultaneously attacked the military base and civilian population in Arbinda." 

In response, Burkinabé President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré has declared two days of national mourning.

He singled out the "heroic actions" of soldiers who made it "possible to neutralise 80 terrorists", praising their "bravery and commitment" in a statement on Twitter.

Burkina Faso, which borders Mali and Niger, has witnessed a steady spiralling of violence resulting in the deaths of hundreds since the start of 2015, when an extremist Islamist militancy spread across the Sahel region.

Read more: Burkina Faso: Islamic State and Al-Qaeda's new sanctuary

Communcations minister and government spokesman Remis Dandjinou said that 31 of Wednesday's victims were women, who "were getting water and got murdered in cold blood by the terrorists while they were retreating."

In a symbolic act of compassion, Dandjinou announced that Christmas celebrations in Burkina Faso were cancelled. 
 
The raid took place early in the morning and was carried out by dozens of militants on motorbikes. The assault lasted many hours, until armed forces drove the militants back, with the assistance of the air force. 

While no group has immediately claimed responsibillity for the attack, extremist violence in the country has often been blamed on Al-Qaeda and Islamic State group actors.

Porous borders, a fragile security apparatus and extreme poverty have now made the former French colony a sanctuary for IS and al-Qaeda adherents.

Over 700 people have been killed in attacks in the past four years and around 56 000 internally displaced, a significant proportion of which hail from Soum province, the site of Wednesday's massacre. 

In a visit to Niger on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the French military had reached 'turning point' in battling Islamist militants in the five Sahel countries hosting French troops, which includes Burkina Faso. 
 
The G5 group also consists of Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, whose impoverished armies have the support of French forces as well as the United Nations in Mali. Leaders of the alliance are set to meet in Pau, France, on January 13.

Despite the deployment of 4500 French troops to the Sahel region following the 2012 takeover of northern Mali by seperatist militants, as well as the presence 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, extremist Islamist violence has gripped the poor, anarchic territory. 

In late November, IS claimed responsiblity for provoking a collision of two military helicopters in neighbouring Mali, bringing to total of French troops killed in the Sahel region to 41.

Read more: IS says it caused Mali crash that killed 13 French troops

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