NOUAKCHOTT – The militant Islamist group Nusrat al-Islam, the largest jihadist group in the Sahel, claimed on Saturday responsibility for the attacks carried out in Ouagadougou against the French Embassy and the headquarters of the Burkinabe army.
The coordinated assaults on Friday in the capital of Burkina Faso resulted in 16 deaths, eight of them soldiers.
In a statement sent to the private Mauritanian news agency Al Akhbar, the usual channel used by the jihadists, Nusrat al-Islam said that the double attack was in revenge for the death of several of its leaders, including Mohamed Hasan al Ansari, in a recent operation by the French army.
The statement did not provide more details on that incident, but was apparently referring to the one on Feb. 14 against a column of jihadists in northern Mali which was suspected to include Iyad Ag Ghali, the Tuareg jihadist and leader of Nusrat al-Islam.
The indications are that Ag Ghali was not among the victims, but some of his lieutenants are thought to have been.
Nusrat al-Islam is officially named the Group to Support Islam and Muslims. It was formed from various militant Islamist groups in the region including the Saharan part of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Jihadists in the Sahel always point to France as one of their main enemies, and accuse it of perpetuating colonialism in the area, which was almost entirely under French rule until the middle of the last century.
France has some 3,000 soldiers present in different countries in the Sahel, mainly Mali and Niger, as part of Operation Barkhane, an anti-insurgent initiative.
The former colonial power remains the main economic partner of and the main investor in these countries.