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History Repeats Itself, Violently, in Burkina Faso

‘Deadly attack in Burkina Faso.’ Screen capture showing customers of the café fleeing during the attack in Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso is still in shock after gunmen left 18 people dead in the capital Ouagadougou on 15 August 2017 on the same street where a similar attack was committed in 2016.

According to witnesses, two assailants arrived by motorbike a little after 9 pm, and proceded to target the Turkish restaurant Aziz Istanbul on Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, which is a favourite among expatriates living in the capital. They began firing on customers at pavement tables, and then burst into the restaurant and took several civilians hostage.

At 9.30 pm, police officers arrived on the scene, followed by members of the Special Intervention Unit of the national gendarmerie (USIGN). Security forces exchanged heavy gunfire with the assailants, and towards midnight the USIGN launched their counter-assault. According to police sources, one of the assailants was killed a little before 2 in the morning, and the other around 3 in the morning.

Burkina Faso has declared three days’ mourning following the violence. The victims include Ahmadou Tanou, a young Burkinabe from Ouagadougou. His cousin Yacouba told Radio France Internationale is trying to get over his anger that an attack could have occurred in the same place within a space of 20 months and believes Burkina Faso will face up to things as always:

On ne peut rien contre la volonté de Dieu. Contre ces gens, on n’y peut rien. Ce sont des barbares. Nous, on confie le Burkina Faso dans la main de Dieu. Les ennemis du Burkina, tout ce qu'ils font contre le Burkina, Dieu les voit

You can't go against the will of God. Against these people, we're powerless. They're barbarians. We entrust Burkina Faso to God's hands. The enemies of Burkina, whatever they do against Burkina, God sees them

A Senegalese-Canadian couple who were expecting a child also perished in the attack: Mehsen, born in Dakar, and his wife, Tammy Chen Fenaiche, both lived in Ouagadougou. Tammy Chen was studying for a PhD in international development and was four-months pregnant. Mehsen's uncle Aboudi explained the family's distress to the same news outlet:

 avec une Canadienne, enceinte de trois ou quatre mois. Tous les deux, ils étaient au restaurant avec un ami. C’est un choc. C’est très dur. Bien sûr qu’on est en colère, bien sûr. C’est un choc quand même. On a perdu un enfant et la perte de son épouse qui porte un enfant. Ce n’est pas facile à encaisser. C’est très dur. On fait avec quand même. On est révoltés. Cela n’est pas l’islam. Effectivement, ce n’est pas l’islam. Ils disent qu’ils sont musulmans. Non. Un bon musulman ne fait pas cela. Ce sont des voyous, des bandits, des personnes sans cœur

He [Mehsen] has been in Burkina four years now.  He'd just married a Canadian, two or three months pregnant. Both of them were in the restaurant with a friend. It's a shock. It's very hard. Of course we're angry, of course. It's still a shock though. We've lost a child and there's the loss of his wife who was carrying a child. It's not easy to take. It's very hard. We're dealing with it though. We're appalled. This isn't Islam. Truly, it isn't Islam. They say they're Muslims. No. A good Muslim doesn't do this. They are hooligans, bandits, people with no heart.

Mehsen and Tammy, killed in the attack, via Daktar Actus. Used with permission.

Hugo Larose, president of Gonville and Caius College of Cambridge University, where Tammy Chen was due to submit her dissertation, also spoke out in tribute to the young woman:

I was devastated to hear about Tammy's loss. All of Tammy's friends echo that she was extraordinarily kind and caring, that she was the sort of person that the world sorely needs in times such as these, who would have made a real difference in this world, and whose loss will be sorely felt. Though many academics dedicate their life to improving the human condition, Tammy went many steps further, working tirelessly in the some of the poorest parts of the world. She was the heart and soul of our MCR during her years in Cambridge, and had many close friends here at Caius. We are all in shock.

No claim of responsibility has been made. Nevertheless, the Burkina Faso authorities have evolved hypotheses as to who potentially was behind the attacks. An officer of the Burkina Faso army, speaking anonymously to the AFP news agency, suggested:

Vu le mode opératoire des assaillants, leurs traits physiques, ils peuvent probablement venir du Nord Mali ou encore plus près de la frontière. Le fait que l’attaque ne soit pas encore revendiquée se signifie pas que c’est une acte isolé, il peut être lié à Ansarul Islam ou à Aqmi. Ce sont des pistes que les enquêteurs explorent et l’analyse des armements et des munitions retrouvés sur le commando permettra d’affiner les recherches. Le processus d’identification des assaillants n’est pas achevé.

Given the assailants’ modus operandi, their physical appearance, they may very likely come from North Mali or maybe closer to the border. The fact that the attack has not yet been claimed doesn't mean it's an isolated act — it could be linked to Ansar ul-Islam or AQIM (Al-Qaeda In the Maghreb). These are leads the investigators are exploring, and the analysis of the arms and munitions found on the assailants will allow us to narrow the search. The process of identification of the attackers has not been completed.

Despite these first stab explanations, incomprehension prevails among Ouagadougou's residents. Omer Bere, 35, an entrepreneur, summed up the general feeling for Jeune Afrique news magazine:

Je suis choqué par l’horreur de ce qui s’est passé à Aziz Istanbul. C’est la tristesse totale, on ne sait pas où va le Burkina. Chaque fois, on vient tuer nos frères. Ce sont deux restaurants prisés des Burkinabè qui ont été visés.

I'm shocked by the horror of what happened at Aziz Istanbul. There's utter sadness, people don't know where Burkina's headed. Every time, they come to kill our brothers. Those are two restaurants beloved of Burkinabe that have been targeted.

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