Gunmen killed at least 160 people in an attack in Burkina Faso’s violence-ridden north on Friday night, the government said.

The gunmen attacked the village of Solhan in Yagha province, which borders Niger. They burned homes and the village market. This is the deadliest attack in Burkina Faso in years.

While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, local officials and government spokesman Ousseni Tamboura are blaming the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

Burkina Faso troops
Burkina Faso troops lead the way for French Barkhane forces during Operation Bourgou IV, November 2019. (État-major des Armées)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “outraged” by the killings and offered the UN’s “full support.” He condemned “the heinous attack” and called on countries to step up the fight against “violent extremism.”

The UN “strongly condemns the heinous attack and underscores the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to the Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a released statement.

Burkina Faso Struggles to Contain Islamic Attacks

Local hospitals are overwhelmed and are urgently requesting medical aid. Because of the sheer number of wounded, the death toll continues to rise.

A local source told AFP the assailants stuck at approximately 2 a.m. against a position of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Motherland (VDP), a civilian defense force that backs the national army.

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The attackers swept easily through them and then attacked homes and carried out “executions,” the source said.

Laurent Saugy, the head of the Burkina Faso delegation of the International Committee for the Red Cross, spoke to the Voice of America (VOA) about their efforts thus far. “Upon requests for support by the health authorities in Dori, we sent half a ton of medical support, mainly dressings, medication, sets of plaster, syringes, and anesthetic was really important to be sent with no delay.”

Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kabore called the killings “barbaric” and said the Burkinabe people “must remain united and solid against these obscurantist forces.” Burkina Faso has declared 72 hours of mourning in the country.

The country has struggled to contain the violence that has swept across the sparsely populated and semi-arid Sahel region and its army is ill-equipped to handle the situation. 

Burkina Faso’s government is also trying but failing to counter the causes leading young people to flock to the Islamic jihadist groups. It tried to institute local militia units, like the VDP, but their training is barebones, only lasting two weeks.

The local militias have also been targeted by Islamic insurgents. 

The Sahel Becomes the New Staging Area for International Terrorism

Burkina Faso troops are ill-equipped to deal with the terrorist groups of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. (Twitter)

The Sahel is the transit route for huge numbers of migrants making their way northward to Europe and beyond. Yet, among them are also members of terrorist organizations. The region is also a major transit route for illegal drugs, weapons, and violent jihadist groups. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State terrorist groups, although rivals, have taken a strategic decision to make Africa their new priority after suffering setbacks in the Middle East.

European and American military officials view the Sahel as the new staging area for violent terrorist attacks against the West.

The Sahel lies just south of the Sahara. It consists of nearly three million square miles of semi-arid land and is beset by a myriad of problems. The region suffers from the effects of climate change, is sparsely populated, largely impoverished, and poorly policed. Its nearly non-existent borders are exploited by drug cartels, people smugglers, and international terrorist groups.