Authorities reported that gunmen killed at least 55 people in northern Burkino Faso over the weekend, although other sources say that the death count could be much higher.
No organization has claimed responsibility for the attack, but many observers suspect that it was carried out by a regional branch of the Islamic State.
“In recent weeks, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara have been the most aggressive group, notably in Seno and Oudalan provinces. In addition to attacks against security forces, civilians have also been targeted,” according to Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Moroccan-based organization focused on economics and policy. “This is a major blow to security forces and puts them on the back foot again, indicating they are far from being able to secure the area and protect civilians.”
Attacks by the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other Islamist militant groups have killed nearly 5,000 people in Burkino Faso in the last two years, with a particularly notable attack in June of last year claiming the lives of at least 160 people in the town of Solhan. These violent attacks have led roughly two million people to flee their homes in the impoverished West African nation.
The country sits on a cultural fault line; Islamic and Christian Africa intersect near the southern edge of the Sahara, and religious conflicts in the region have been notoriously violent, notably in Nigeria and South Sudan.
Anonymous sources on the ground told Reuters that the true death toll may be closer to 100, with one local source giving a provisional estimate of 165. The attackers reportedly targeted men in the department of Seytenga, but appeared to spare women and children. 3,000 people have fled to the regional capital of Dori, where aid agencies are on the ground providing support, according to a local official who asked to remain anonymous.