Attacks have been on the rise in Burkina Faso, with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) claiming responsibility for a number of strikes against the country’s security forces. First thought to be a relatively new splinter group originating from Al-Mourabitoun, new findings reveal that the group can be traced back to 2017, when the Islamic State first established a presence in Burkina Faso.
A video recording with an October 19, 2017 timestamp has been making the rounds on Burkina Faso social media. In it, radical militants who describe themselves as fighters for the Islamic State in Burkina Faso are seen looting and burning a school in Tem Soum Province. The men claimed they would fight with their mouths and not with violence, but that strategy quickly evolved as they established new partnerships and acquired weapons to fight a lasting war against the security forces of Burkina Faso.
The ISGS first came to light after the Tongo Tongo ambush in Niger. Everybody was rushing around struggling to identify who the group was, where they came from, and who was leading them. New footage and posts, such as the video mentioned above, have appeared this year showing that the group arose in Burkina Faso and not Mali, as previously thought.
The original theory is that ISGS emerged from a rift within Al-Mourabitoun. Some of its commanders were uncertain of which direction to take the group in 2017. Parts of the group were devoted to al-Qaeda while its newer members followed the progress of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, wishing to align with them. Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui, a former leader in Al-Mourabitoun, had in the past voiced his preference for joining the Islamic State and pledged the group’s allegiance, but AQ loyalists denied the validity of the pledge. Sahraoui then split from the group and established his own Islamic State organization, one now recognized as the ISGS. However, it’s clear from this new video that there was an established Islamic State in Burkina Faso before Sahraoui and his men split from Al-Mourabitoun.
A plausible theory: Sahraoui merged his armed group with the Islamic State in Burkina Faso to establish the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The original IS cell would already have communications with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and most likely with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). This would have made the development of the ISGS easier as the foundations were already laid for Sahraoui and his men. This would also explain why, in the initial statements from the Islamic State in Burkina Faso, they said they would fight with their mouths (as in preaching), but immediately following the merger, gained the means to fight back against the security forces of Burkina Faso.
It’s also possible that Ansarul Islam fighters have joined the group. A relatively small terrorist organization that operates between the Burkina Faso and Mali border, the group swears allegiance to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group has two bases in the Malian towns of Douna and Selba, but their focus is not on attacking French troops. Rather, they seem to concentrate on assaulting Burkina Faso troops in the border regions.