Forty-four civilians have been killed by "armed terrorist groups" in two villages in northeastern Burkina Faso near the Niger border, a regional governor said Saturday.
The provisional toll of "this despicable and barbaric attack" which targeted the villages of Kourakou and Tondibi in northeast Burkina Faso overnight Thursday "is 44 civilians killed and others wounded," said Rodolphe Sorgho, lieutenant-governor of the Sahel region.
Sorgho said that 31 people had died in Kourakou and 13 in Tondibi.
The regional official said that an army offensive put "out of action the armed terrorist groups" that carried out the killings.
The governor also assured that "actions to stabilize the area are under way."
The impoverished Sahel country is grappling with a 7-year-old campaign by jihadis linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
A resident of Kourakou told Agence France-Presse that "a large number of terrorists burst into the village" late Thursday.
"All night long, we heard gunfire. It was on Friday morning that we saw that there were several dozen dead," he said.
Attack was act of retaliation, say locals
Locals said the village had been targeted in retaliation for the lynching of two jihadis a few days earlier who had tried to steal cattle.
It was one of the deadliest attacks since Captain Ibrahim Traore came to power in a coup last September,
In February, 51 soldiers were killed in an attack on Deou, in the far north of the country.
The latest twin attacks happened close to the village of Seytenga, where 86 civilians were killed last June in one of the bloodiest attacks of a long-running insurgency.
Burkina Faso's new military chief this week vowed to step up a "dynamic offensive" against jihadis following a string of insurgent attacks since the start of the year.
"The dynamic offensive underway in the past few weeks will be stepped up to force armed groups to lay down their weapons," said Colonel Celestin Simpore after a handover ceremony following his appointment last week.
Thousands killed, millions displaced
Since the jihadis launched their campaign from neighboring Mali in 2015, more than 10,000 civilians, troops and police have been killed, according to one NGO estimate, and at least 2 million people have been displaced.
Official figures say jihadis effectively control about 40% of the country.
Frustration within the military led to two military coups last year. Traore, who came to power in September, has vowed to fight back and recover conquered territory.
But the jihadis have carried out a succession of raids and ambushes since the start of the year, inflicting heavy tolls on civilians and military-escorted convoys.
Burkina's beleaguered army has recently acquired foreign-made drones, and regularly issues video footage of strikes against purported terrorists and troops described as reconquering and securing lost territory.
Since Traore seized power last year, the activities of all political parties and civil society organizations in the country have been suspended.