The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for killing more than 70 soldiers, wounding dozens and taking five hostages, in an ambush on a military convoy in northern Burkina Faso.
The statement, posted Friday by Amaq, the group’s news agency, said it attacked a convoy trying to advance to areas under its control near Deou, in the Sahel's Oudalan province. It said it seized weapons and chased retreating soldiers for miles into the desert.
Images released by the group show 54 slain bodies in military uniform lying in the bloodstained dirt, as well as more than 50 seized assault rifles and images of the five soldiers it said were taken prisoner.
The announcement comes one week after the attack in Deou and days after another attack in Tin-Akoff town, where locals and civil society groups say dozens more soldiers and civilians were killed when a military outpost was hit.
It's unclear how many people have been killed in the two incidents. Last week the government confirmed that 51 soldiers died in the Deou ambush, but it has not responded to requests for updated numbers or commented on the attack in Tin-Akoff.
Violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group has wracked the country for seven years killing thousands and displacing nearly 2 million people. Frustration at the government's inability to stem the violence led to two coups last year, each one preceded by a major attack on the military.
This is the deadliest ambush on soldiers since the new junta leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, seized power in September and analysts say it could threaten his grip on power.
“There’s a persistent stream of militant attacks north of the country and the public is undoubtedly taking notice of their government's inability to provide security. Any further attacks this colossal could threaten a public scene and even threaten to unseat the junta,” said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory, which provides intelligence analysis.
One soldier involved in the ambush in Deou, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said their convoy was outnumbered as more than 300 jihadis encircled them, firing rockets and mortars. “We lost many men,” he said.
The large number of jihadis and the different colored headscarves they were wearing appeared like a coalition of many extremist franchises that he hadn't seen before, he said.
The Islamic State and an al-Qaida linked group, known by its acronym JNIM, are not known to work together, but rather have been fighting each other for territory and influence in the country as well as in neighboring Mali where they operate. Analysts say it's extremely unlikely they would have joined forces.
Some locals say the increase of jihadi violence against the military is revenge for torture and extrajudicial killings by soldiers against people presumed to be jihadis.
Hamadou Boureima Diallo, a local journalist in the Sahel's Dori town, told The Associated Press by phone that he spoke with locals who witnessed the latest attack in Tin-Akoff and were able to flee and that they blamed the killings on revenge.
“These recent bloody attacks against soldiers is because when the soldiers arrest terrorists or presumed terrorists they torture them and make photos or videos that circulate on social media," said Diallo, recounting what the locals said.
He added that they said, “We have seen some of the videos —where presumed terrorists are being tortured—This is not good.”