An attack on the northeastern village of Solhan in June resulted in the death of over 150 people and was carried out by children between the ages of 12 and 14 according to the Burkinabe government and the United Nations. This atrocity was one of the most violent assaults on Burkina Faso since the security crisis started in the country in 2015. Burkina Faso’s strategic location in the heart of west Africa means its security situation is deeply linked to transnational trends. That said, the depth of cohesion between violent extremist groups (VEGs) and their affiliates, or regional offshoots, remains somewhat unclear.
The two key regional violent extremist groups (rVEGs) are Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), an umbrella coalition of Salafi-Jihadist insurgents led by Iyad Ag Ghaly and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) whose leader, Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahrawi, is reported to have been killed by French forces in September 2021. JNIM has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda (AQ). ISGS to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (IS). Firstly, the depth of these allegiances is not clear cut. The pragmatic JNIM is increasingly focused on its regional objectives and although it has pledged allegiance to AQ, the depth of the relationship and the amount of information it receives from AQ leadership is not well known. While ISGS uses the branding of IS they seem to be more of a terrorist franchise rather than a group receiving direct instruction from IS’ leadership in the Middle East.
Local violent extremist groups (lVEGs) are dispersed predominantly throughout Burkina Faso’s north and east and like rVEG’s relationship to global violent extremist groups (gVEGs), the depth of their relationship to rVEGs can often be thrown into question. lVEGs can often take credit for an attack that they did not plan, target opposition groups without permission from rVEG leadership or engage in violence rooted in ethnic grievances rather than ideological struggle. In a social media driven world, this opportunism should always be a key factor in regional analysis of VEG trends. This is not to underestimate the relationships that do exist but more to encourage a critical approach to Burkina Faso’s security situation.
The behaviour and strategic goals of VEGs in Burkina Faso can also depend on their geographical location. In the northern Sahel region religious ideology appears to be a key driver of violent extremism. In the East, economic factors play a significant role in both group allegiances and land disputes. In the Centre-North region, which is home to the majority of the country’s internally displaced population (IDP), conflict between lVEGs can often be fuelled by ethnic grievances that were established before, or exacerbated by, the Sahel crisis. The growing number of IDPs has also created tension in this region.
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