Burkina Faso attacks: Who are JSIM terrorists?

The Mali-based Jama Nusrat ul-Islam wa Al-Muslimin (JSIM) terror group has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks in Burkina Faso. Coordinated blasts at the military headquarters and French embassy in the capital Ouagadougou killed at least eight soldiers and eight jihadists on March 2. Dozens more were injured.

JSIM said the attacks were in retaliation to the recent killing of one of its leaders by French troops, according to the Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar. France has deployed around 4,000 troops to fight terrorism in the Sahel region, which includes Mali and Burkina Faso.

Investigations into the attacks are ongoing and authorities said on March 5 they had arrested a suspect thought to be one of the masterminds of the attacks. Authorities also said they suspect "army infiltrators" passed information to the assailants, according to several reports.

Who are the JSIM militants?

The group was formed last March, following the merger of four jihadist groups operating in the region— Ansar Dine, the Massina Brigades, Al-Mourabitoun and the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Al-Qaeda officially recognized the alliance.

JSIM is led by Iyad Ag-Ghali, a Tuareg militant from Mali, and is thought to be the largest jihadi group in the Sahara, counting thousands of members. The various groups had claimed responsibility for attacks on Malian, U.S. and French forces in several West African countries.

Since its formation, JSIM has claimed responsibility for several attacks killing soldiers and civilians in Mali and Burkina Faso.

"The purpose of JSIM creation was to rival the Islamic State in Africa, make the region ungovernable for Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania, and to make a hell out of the region for French troops who launched Operation Barkhane," counter-terrorism expert David Otto told Newsweek.

"By simultaneously attacking the most fortified French embassy and military headquarters, JSIM wants to send a clear message that its capacity is growing, and that targets are random and not limited to soft targets alone," Otto said, adding that the group might be recruiting ISIS fighters who "have switched sides to Al Qaeda".

Why is Burkina Faso facing increasing terrorism?

Burkina Faso attack
Bystanders watch the scene outside the headquarters of the country's defence forces in Ouagadougou on March 2, 2018 after dozens of people were killed in twin attacks on the French embassy and the country's military. Eight soldiers died and 12 were seriously wounded in twin attacks on the Burkina Faso military HQ and the French embassy in Ouagadougou, a French security source said on March 3. Eight attackers were also killed in Friday's bloody assault. A previous toll from French security sources had reported at least 28 deaths. AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images

This is the third major attack to occur on Burkinabe soil in recent years. In 2016, gunmen stormed a hotel and a restaurant in the capital killing at least 30 people. AQIM and Al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility.

Last August, suspected AQIM members stormed a Turkish cafe in Ouagadougou and killed at least 18 people.

JSIM and other groups vowed to step up attacks in retaliation to the deployment of French troops and the so-called G5 Sahel force—5,000 troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania—to fight extremism in the region.

"These jihadist coalitions are using negative imperialistic messaging tactics to win hearts and minds of the most vulnerable people in the region, by pointing out the shortcomings of the state apparatus and how the presence of France is toxic for Islam," Otto explained.

"French President Emmanuel Macron's visit in Ouagadougou in November 2017 has been interpreted by these jihadists as a sign that France will continue to have influence in the region at the expense of locals, who are mostly poor and uneducated."