Islamic State-loyal militants claim attacks in Burkina Faso

Militants belonging to the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) under Abu Walid al Sahrawi have claimed responsibility for two attacks in northern Burkina Faso.

In a phone call to the AFP, a spokesman for the jihadists claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a schoolteacher and the murder of a local mayor in northern Burkina Faso. According to the spokesman, identified as “Hammar,” the jihadists kidnapped the teacher for speaking French. Meanwhile, the mayor was killed for reportedly “working with the Burkina Faso army for the Crusaders.”

The schoolteacher was abducted late last week in a small village in the Nassoumbou area of Burkina’s Soum Province. The mayor of Koutougou, also in Soum, was murdered in front of his house earlier last week.

The two assaults are not the first time militants of ISGS have claimed operations inside Burkina. In September 2016, a spokesman for the group claimed an attack on a Burkinabe gendarmerie post via the Mauritanian news outlet Al Akhbar. A month later, Al Akhbar again published a claim sent to it by ISGS in which the group took responsibility for an assault on a Burkinabe military post near the borders with Mali.

Al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and its Burkinabe affiliate group, Ansaroul Islam, have claimed or conducted the majority of jihadist attacks in northern Burkina Faso. However, as today’s claims further confirm, ISGS retains its ability to operate and conduct operations in the area.

ISGS has also claimed assaults in Mali and Niger. For instance, earlier this year, the group sent claims to another Mauritanian agency, ANI, in which it claimed several attacks in both countries. It was in this statement it claimed last October’s deadly ambush on US Special Forces in Niger. It also claimed an IED against French troops in Mali, three assaults in Niger, an attack on Malian troops near Menaka, and several assassinations of pro-government militias in Mali.

ISGS formed out of the former Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO), which merged with forces loyal to Mokhtar Belmokhtar to form Al Murabitoon in 2013. Two years later, Abu Walid al Sahrawi, a former MUJAO spokesman, left with several fighters from the former MUJAO, and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi of the Islamic State.

ISGS gained little publicity from Islamic State central, with its pledge of allegiance only being acknowledged in an Amaq video one year later. Nevertheless, the group continues to operate in the Sahel with loyalty to the Islamic State.

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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