Last Friday, a West African division of Al-Qaeda attacked a luxury hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The attackers took over 120 hostages and engaged in a siege with French and Burkinabe security forces that lasted for hours. Twenty nine people were killed as a result, including four of the attackers and six Canadian nationals among many others. Al-Mourabitoun, a West African sect of AQIM, has claimed responsibility for the attack. President Kaboré declared a seventy two hour period of national mourning. Bearing an unsettling resemblance to the attack on the Malian Radisson Blu in November, West Africa’s victimization by Al-Mourabitoun and Boko Haram has caused fear to spread like wildfire through the region.
Many victims of the attack in Burkina Faso were foreigners. Their nationalities ranged from American to Ukrainian to Swiss. Similar to the attack in Mali, Al-Mourabitoun targeted a luxury hotel known to accommodate diplomats and expatriates. These acts of terrorism have incited widespread panic in West Africa, as Boko Haram moves in from the East and Al-Mourabitoun from the North. Some believe that both terrorists groups seem to be after the growing population of foreigners, not African natives. With the increasing popularity of this notion, is increasing West African xenophobia.
These attacks and their increasing frequency have put both neighboring West African countries as well as more distant Western powerhouses such as France and the US on warning. A global fight against Islamist terrorist groups is gradually breaking out; many countries are dedicating more resources towards counterterrorism. France, still maintaining strong ties with its former colonies, has deployed some 1,700 soldiers in Mali and plans to deploy another 3,000 into Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Chad. While President Obama seemed to regard Al-Shabab and East African Al-Qaeda affiliates as primary threats, the publicity West African Islamist terrorist groups have received from recent attacks has furthered intensified counterterrorism efforts.
Islamist terrorism in West Africa is relatively new, but the frequency of these acts is alarming nonetheless. The attacks have been successful in creating copious amounts of terror. The repeated acts of terrorism have managed increase internal xenophobia and fear, while also bringing the international community together. Such a fraternal sentiment is encapsulated in the simple remark of French President Francois Hollande: “West Africa’s security is France’s security.”