Burkina army abandoned town as militants attacked - Survivors

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"The security forces have packed up and left. Several survivors of the attack in Seytenga, Burkina Faso, told AFP how they found themselves alone against the attackers, jihadists who massacred at least 79 people according to authorities.

According to these witnesses, the carnage began late Saturday in this town in northern Burkina Faso, a few kilometers from Niger, in a region regularly battered by this type of attack, carried out by groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (EI) group.

"Armed men came to take positions, surround the village and shoot. They even opened the doors of the houses to go in and execute," said Amadou, a refugee in Dori, the large town near Seytenga.

"The terrorists visited stores one after the other, setting some on fire. They shot at those who tried to flee. They stayed in the town all night," said another survivor who wished to remain anonymous.

"As soon as the shooting started on Saturday night, my family and I fled into the bush. We stayed there all night before reaching Dori on Sunday morning. We didn't take anything with us and we learned that they had burned the houses, so we lost everything," said another.

Some, like Fatimata, with a little girl in her arms, still have no news of their loved ones, especially her brother.

"Did he get into the bush? We don't know until now. They stripped the houses, all those they found they killed, the men, the children. There were so many deaths. It is so serious", she sighs.

- "Defenseless" -

The attack has not been claimed, as is often the case in this region.

But Seytenga had already been attacked two days earlier, on Thursday, by jihadists who killed eleven gendarmes there, according to authorities.

"The next day (Friday), when the bodies were lifted, the security forces packed up and left," Amadou says.

"We alerted, we asked for at least one reinforcement to secure the defenseless population," he continues.

Two of the survivors who wish to remain anonymous corroborate his claims.

"On Friday, the gendarmerie, escorted by the army who had come as reinforcements, retreated to Dori," explains the first. As a result, "people began to flee the town" without the gendarmerie, said another.

The Burkinabe army had announced that it had killed some 40 jihadists following Thursday's attack. According to the Burkinabe government, the jihadists returned to attack Seytenga on Saturday to avenge their deaths.

Despite the bloody attacks, some still hope to return to Seytenga.

"In Dori we have nowhere to stay, or to eat. We don't know what to do. What we ask is that you help us return to our village. We ask the authorities to ensure that we can return and go about our business," Amadou pleads.

The Seytenga attack is the second deadliest recorded in Burkina Faso, after the June 2021 attack on the village of Solhan, also in the north near Niger, where 132 people were killed according to the government, 160 according to local sources.

The country's new strongman, Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who overthrew elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré at the end of January on charges of being ineffective in dealing with jihadist violence, had promised to make the security issue his "priority."

Since 2015, attacks attributed to jihadist groups have left thousands dead and nearly two million displaced in Burkina.

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