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The jihadist explanation is an unacceptable distraction

The terrorists’ goal was to destabilize Burkina Faso. But why now? The most plausible hypothesis is that they wanted to regain a rear base they lost when a popular uprising overthrew Blaise Compaoré in November 2014.

Like most of my countrymen and women, I am shocked, appalled, and extremely saddened by the terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 15 January 2016. Our country was previously spared from such barbaric jihadist violence, which has become a frequent occurrence around the globe. I am also deeply concerned by the motives behind these unprecedented acts of cowardice, which aimed not only to destroy lives but also to destabilize our country.

Curiously, the events started on the night of Thursday, January 14, when armed men kidnapped an Australian couple in Dibo, northern Burkina Faso. Octogenarians Dr. Ken Elliott and wife Jocelyn had moved there in 1972, and founded a medical clinic that treated thousands of Burkinabe in the Sahel, our country’s poorest region. The next morning, gunmen attacked a gendarme post near the Malian border, killing two.

We had hardly stated processing the kidnapping and mourning the deaths when on Friday evening the real terror began. Three baby-faced jihadists opened fire on the Cappuccino restaurant and the Splendid Hotel, at the heart of our capital Ouagadougou, killing 31 and injuring dozens more.

As soon as I heard the news I went directly to the site. I felt it was important to be on the ground to physically support our troops, who tracked the terrorists for 18 hours. Everyone knows the rest of the story. The attackers opened fire on everything that moved. Witnesses said they killed in cold blood, without claiming any political goals, as is often the case elsewhere.

Considering how little the gunmen valued human life, the only ideology they appear to defend is their hatred of life itself. They certainly don’t have any religious lesson to give us here in Burkina Faso; it is precisely because we are such strong believers in God that we have been able to overcome all our political struggles these past few years, in an incredible display of popular mobilization.

After the insurrection of October 30 and 31, 2014 and the heroic resistance of our people against the failed coup d’état in September 2014, we are starting to rebuild a true spirit of national unity. The democratic forces of our country have begun to believe in their abilities to forge a new and free Burkina, where justice is guaranteed for all and that economic development and its fruits will be fairly shared.

Burkina Faso has no score to settle with jihadists to merit the barbaric attacks of January 15. Other than the foolhardy idea of attacking so-called “Western interests,” they didn’t have anything to gain from spreading terror here, unless they were acting on behalf of individuals or groups who want to destabilize our institutions at any cost, in order to take back control of the country.

It’s no secret that former President Blaise Compaoré entertained incestuous relations with jihadist groups, some of which had taken up residence in Ouagadougou. They were at home in Ouagadougou, and came and went as they pleased. Some of them felt comfortable enough to build sumptuous villas, as was the case with Blaise Compaoré’s Mauritanian advisor, Moustapha Chafi. Chafi, Compaoré’s main link to terrorist groups in the Sahel (especially those in northern Mali), negotiated the release of Western hostages for large ransoms in the region for years and was constantly in contact with AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb">.

An obscure jihadist group, “The Sahara Emirate,” claimed the kidnapping, while veteran Algerian jihadi Moktar Belmoktar’s Al Mourabitoune, (the same group that killed two dozen at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November 2015) took credit for the Ouagadougou attacks. The terrorists’ goal was to destabilize Burkina Faso. But why now? The most plausible hypothesis is that they wanted to regain a rear base they lost when a popular uprising overthrew Blaise Compaoré in November 2014. The only people who would stand to gain from these attacks are those that nourish the dream of seeing our country return to a status quo in which lucrative trafficking of Western hostages is commonplace.

Our country chose the path of democratic renewal when we chased Blaise Compaoré from power in October 2014 and halted the September 2015 coup d’état. Evidently, this path doesn’t please everyone, especially those who profited from the deposed regime. We don’t need to look far to see the motives of the Ouagadougou attacks and the others that preceded them. The jihadist explanation is a distraction.

* Moumina Chériff Sy, journalist, editorialist, is founder of the weekly newspaper Bendré and former president of the National Transitional Council (which is the name of Burkina Faso’s interim parliament after a revolution overthrew former President Blaise Compaoré).



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