Police officers inspect the scene of a bombed explosion in Beni, eastern Congo Sunday Dec. 26, 2021. A bomb exploded at a restaurant Saturday as patrons gathered on Christmas Day in an eastern Congolese town where Islamic extremists are known to be active. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

By Arsene Kabore and Sam Mednick
The Associated Press

Islamic extremists killed 41 people last week in an attack in northern Burkina Faso, including the prominent leader of a volunteer group helping the country’s military, the government said.

Alkassoum Maiga, the government spokesman, announced two days of mourning following the deadly ambush on a convoy in Loroum province on Dec. 23.

Among the victims was Soumaila Ganame, also known as Ladji Yoro. Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said Ganame had died for his country and “must be a model of our determined commitment to fight the enemy.”

The death of Burkina Faso’s most important volunteer leader has created a sense of panic, said Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

“While Ganame achieved legendary status as a popular counter-insurgent who played a central role in mobilizing (volunteers) in Loroum and Yatenga, he was also the embodiment of the absent state,” he said.

Violence in the once-peaceful West African nation is escalating as attacks linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State increase. More than 50 gendarmes were killed in November in the largest attack on the country’s security forces in recent memory and at least 160 civilians were massacred in the Sahel region in June.

Even though Burkina Faso’s security forces are conducting the most operations compared to its neighbors in the volatile Sahel region, the army is overstretched, putting out one fire at a time, Nsaibia said.

Volunteer fighters have been accused of committing some human rights abuses against those suspected of fighting with the jihadis, but also have become the targets of attacks.

The government is facing calls to step down amid its inability to stop the violence, with weeks of protests taking place in November. In response, the president fired his prime minister this month.

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Mednick reported from Malakal, South Sudan.

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