Overview: Terrorist activity in Burkina Faso rapidly and significantly increased in 2019, as members of JNIM and ISIS-GS conducted the highest level of targeted political assassination, the largest attack on civilians, the largest attack on Burkinabe security forces, and the largest attack altogether on a combined population of security forces and civilians. Individuals affiliated with terrorist organizations continue to conduct targeted assassinations, IED attacks, raids on security and military outposts, and to ignite intercommunal conflict and displace local populations in far north and east Burkina Faso. The Burkinabe government conducted the largest CT operations in its history in its northernmost and easternmost regions and continued to increase its intelligence and investigative capacity, but terrorist activities outpaced the government’s efforts.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist attacks increased in frequency and lethality in 2019, targeting civilians and members of Burkina Faso’s security forces. There was a 250 percent increase in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso from 2018 to 2019. Terrorist groups increasingly appeared to implement a deliberate strategy of hampering security forces’ movement in the northernmost region of Burkina Faso by placing IEDs on specific bridges to partially destroy them and prevent heavy vehicles from moving freely.
- During an August 19 attack, about 50 terrorists launched an attack on the Koutougou military outpost, killing at least 24 Burkinabe soldiers and wounding another 13 – the largest attack ever reported against security forces.
- On November 3, terrorist gunmen killed the mayor of Djibo and a parliamentarian of the Sahel region, the highest-level political assassination to date.
- On November 6, individuals affiliated with terrorist groups conducted the largest-ever attack on a civilian population by killing at least 39 people and wounding another 60 in an attack on a convoy carrying employees, suppliers, and contractors of a Canadian mining company.
- ISIS claimed a December 24 attack in which assailants killed 7 security forces personnel and 35 civilians, predominantly women, in the largest attack against both civilians and security forces known to date during Burkina Faso’s fight against terrorist organizations. Security forces reportedly killed 80 attackers while defending their base in this incident.
As a result of an increasing number of attacks, Burkinabe security forces have retreated from some military and police outposts in the northernmost region of Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso launched two major CT operations in the East and Center-North regions committing a substantial percentage of available forces in the clearing operations.
Abusive counterterrorism tactics by Burkina Faso’s armed forces further exacerbated tensions between civilians and the state, and fueled recruitment of civilians into terrorist groups.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: On May 29, the National Assembly voted into law a new code of criminal procedure, which seeks to abridge criminal proceedings for terrorism cases. The new law eliminated an additional layer of investigations by the Court of Appeal. Instead, upon completion of the investigations, a special chamber will directly adjudicate terrorism and terrorism financing cases, shortening pre-trial timelines. In 2019, the Burkinabe government adopted two decrees for the compensation of defense forces and public servants who are victims of terrorist attacks to galvanize public support in the fight against terrorism. Also in 2019, the National Assembly passed a bill submitted by the government to authorize the government to recruit volunteers to defend the homeland. While the Burkinabe government did not prosecute a terrorist in 2019, three cases were ready for trial, and the Ministry of Justice set up a committee chaired by his chief of staff to expedite the processing of pending terrorism cases.
The newly created special brigade on anti-terrorism investigations (BSIAT, for Brigade Spéciale des Investigations Antiterroristes) reached operational capacity in August 2019 and closed 18 of the 31 total cases opened since then, leading to the arrest of 78 terrorist suspects. BSIAT continues to lack a budget for fuel, phone service, and other basic logistical needs, such as food for detainees. BSIAT has initiated dialogue with joint military and gendarme units to improve access to military information, which has resulted in the unintentional consequence of creating confusion on whose authority prevails in terrorist investigations.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Burkina Faso is a member of the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), a FATF-style regional body. Burkina Faso’s FIU, the National Financial Information Processing Unit (CENTIF-BF), is a member of the Egmont Group, an informal network of FIUs aimed at combating money laundering and terrorist financing. Burkina Faso’s FIU CENTIF in the Ministry of Economy and Finance tracks terrorist financing and concluded 18 investigations in 2019, which included cases of fraud, money laundering and terrorism financing that were referred to the Attorney General’s office for further action.
Countering Violent Extremism: Burkina Faso remains interested in countering terrorist radicalization and recruitment. The government planned to inject $249 million in 2019 to support the Sahel Emergency Plan (Plan d’Urgence pour le Sahel – PUS) to strengthen the role of government, enhance community law enforcement, and generate economic opportunities in its Sahel region. The Burkinabe government completed more than 50 percent of the plan’s overall activities by 2019. Further recognizing the value of a holistic approach, the task force developing the Burkinabe government’s National Security Strategy has named social cohesion and coexistence, sustainable human development, and strengthening resilience to terrorism as three of the strategy’s four pillars. With USAID support, the Ministry of Territorial Administration is considering a consultative framework and strategy to consult religious leaders on CVE issues.
International and Regional Cooperation: Burkina Faso held the rotating presidency of the G5 Sahel in 2019, and continued to work with G5 partner countries Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad to coordinate their regional response to terrorism and crime. Against a backdrop of a rising terrorist threat, Burkina Faso convened an extraordinary summit on counterterrorism for members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and G5 Sahel heads of state on September 14 in Ouagadougou. During the summit, ECOWAS member states agreed to set up a $1 billion fund from 2020 to 2024 to invest in mutual CT priorities that include border security, terrorism financing, information sharing, and intelligence coordination. Burkina Faso maintains one peacekeeping battalion in Mali as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Burkina Faso’s total UN contribution exceeds 1,626 personnel in support of six Peacekeeping and Special Political Missions.