Burkina Faso, Mali to increase cooperation after attacks

West African neighbours Burkina Faso and Mali pledge to increase military cooperation following attacks by Al Qaeda militants

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Mali's Prime Minister Modibo Keita (center L) and Burkinabe's Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba (center R) survey damage in front of the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on January 17, 2016

Burkina Faso and Mali has agreed to work together to counter the growing threat of Al Qaeda militants in West Africa by sharing intelligence and conducting joint security patrols following two deadly and well-coordinated attacks in the region.

Their prime ministers met on Sunday, two days after Al Qaeda militants seized the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou and opened fire on a restaurant along with attacking another hotel nearby, killing at least 28 people from at least seven countries, and wounding 50 others.

The Splendid Hotel is sometimes used by French troops with Operation Barkhane, a force based in Chad and set up to combat militants across Africa's vast, arid Sahel region.

The assault, claimed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), followed a similar raid in November on a luxury hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako, which killed 20 people, including citizens of Russia, China and the United States.

The Al Qaeda affiliated al Mourabitoun group, which is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, took responsibility for the Bamako attack. The Macina Liberation Front (LWF), which is also affiliated with Al Qaeda, also claimed responsibility for the raid.

The attack came amid a deterioration in the security situation in the country just two years after a French-led military operation to suppress militants, who briefly occupied the desert north.

French troops and a 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) are struggling to bring back stability to the region, as strikes on Western targets spread further south and far beyond traditional militant strongholds.

The exact details of the cooperation between Burkina Faso and Mali were not immediately clear, but the patrols and intelligence sharing mark an intent by the two countries to prevent the spread of militancy as AQIM and others expand operations in the region beyond their usual reach.

For years, militants have used northern Mali as a base, but over the past year they have staged a number of attacks in other parts of the country. Burkina Faso's authorities are now concerned that its long desert border with Mali could become a transit point for militants.

"There is a very strong political will on the part of the two states to combine our efforts to fight terrorism," said Burkina Faso's Prime Minister, Paul Kaba Thieba.

Thieba and his Malian counterpart Modibo Keita visited the outside of the Splendid Hotel on Sunday, where bullet holes and a charred exterior offered reminders of Friday evening's attack.

Tight security was in place around the hotel. Inside, Burkinabe and French security officials were conducting an investigation.

According to provisional figures from the Burkinabe government, among the dead were eight Burkinabes, four Canadians, three Ukrainians, two Portuguese, two French, two Swiss and one Dutch citizen. Seven bodies are yet to be identified, and the list is subject to change. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday said six Canadians had been killed.

A nine-year-old Italian boy and his mother were killed in the assault on Cappuccino, the restaurant attacked opposite the Splendid Hotel, Italy's foreign ministry said on Sunday.

TRTWorld and agencies