Terrorism & Insurgency

Islamist attack in Burkina Faso’s capital indicates increasing vulnerability of hardened security force targets

06 March 2018
Smoke rises above Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, during multiple attacks on 2 March, which targeted the military headquarters and the French embassy. Source: Ahmed Ouoba/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • The timing of the attacks and the deliberate targeting suggest improving intelligence of the jihadists.
  • Jihadists are likely to aim future attacks at harder targets such as army headquarters and foreign governments’ assets.
  • Jihadists’ complex attacks are likely to involve combined tactics such as IEDs and small arms not only in the capital, but also smaller, less well-defended cities through networks of local affiliates.


Jihadist coalition Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) staged two co-ordinated and simultaneous suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attacks on 2 March, which targeted the armed forces headquarters in the centre of the capital, Ouagadougou, and the French embassy. At least eight were killed and 80 others wounded in the attacks.

The armed forces headquarters and the French embassy in Ouagadougou targeted by JNIM are approximately 1 kilometre apart. Both SVBIED attacks were supported by a small group of fewer than 10 lightly armed fighters. In a statement on 3 March, jihadists claimed responsibility for the attacks, highlighting that they were in response to the recent killings of six senior Al-Qaeda leaders, including founding member of Al Murabitoun and JNIM Mohamed Ould Nouini (alias Hassan al-Ansari), killed on 14 February during French raids on the Malian-Algerian border.

JNIM is an Al-Qaeda-aligned jihadist coalition, which comprises Harakat Ansar al-Din, Front de Libération du Macina (FLM), Al-Murabitoun, and the Sahara branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The attacks coincided with the first anniversary of JNIM’s formation on 2 March 2017, but also occurred within the context of ongoing competition between JNIM and Islamic State-affiliated groups in the Sahel region. A group of JNIM and Harakat Ansar al-Din militants had previously pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Ibrahim al-Badri (alias Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) on 19 February. JNIM had also previously threatened in December 2017 to retaliate against various regional counter-terrorism operations including the G5 Sahel counter-terrorism force.

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