OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Assailants in northern Burkina Faso killed about 70 people, most of them children and the elderly, in a village massacre earlier this month that remains under investigation, authorities said Monday.
Prosecutor Simon B. Gnanou said the attack took place in the village of Zaongo, located around 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the city of Boulsa.
“At the current stage of our findings and the testimonies collected, the perpetrators of these atrocities remain unknown for the moment,” Gnanou said in a news release.
The West African nation has been grappling with a jihadi insurgency linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group for years. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million internally displaced.
On Sunday, the European Union placed the death toll from the village massacre at nearly 100. Investigators were meeting with families of the victims and expected to then update the provisional death toll of 70 people, Gnanou said.
It took two days for local law enforcement to alert others of the attack and four more days before a team of investigators could reach the scene where they found dozens of homes burned, he said. An attack on the convoy of investigators also had to be repelled at one point, he added.
“In these painful circumstances, my prosecution presents its most saddened condolences to the grieving families and its wishes for a speedy recovery to the injured,” Gnanou said.
The jihadi violence in Burkina Faso has led to two coups, with the current junta seizing power in September 2022. The junta, led by Capt. Ibrahim Traore, has been accused by rights groups of committing abuses against civilians and cracking down on civil liberties in the name of securing the country.
Earlier this month the junta enacted an emergency law against perceived dissidents to expand its crackdown, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. The junta notified at least a dozen journalists, civil society activists and opposition members that they would be conscripted to participate in government security operations across the country, the report said.
In its attempt to stem the jihadi threat, the government has enlisted tens of thousands of volunteer fighters, but civilians say the volunteers indiscriminately kill people suspected of working with the jihadis. Many communities say they are more afraid of the volunteers than the extremists.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, last week, Molly Phee, head of African affairs at the U.S. State Department, said she was “shocked and saddened” by the news of the killings in Zaongo and urged authorities to investigate and hold those responsible to account.
Associated Press writer Sam Mednick in Jerusalem contributed to this report.