Burkina Faso takes over from Afghanistan as most terrorism-affected country

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Last year Burkina Faso surpassed Afghanistan as the country most impacted by terrorism, with nearly 2 000 deaths as the global terrorism epicentre shifts from the Middle East into the Sahel.

This is according to a new report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). Its Global Terrorism Index 2024 recorded 1 907 terrorism-related deaths and 442 injured last year.

Deaths from terrorism have increased successively each year since 2014 when no deaths were recorded. Deaths surged from 1 135 in 2022 to 1 907 in 2023, a 68% increase, despite a nearly 16% decline in the number of attacks last year. This is the second consecutive year that over a thousand people were killed in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso.

The increase in deaths coincided with an increased frequency of civilians being targeted, with civilians now comprising over half of victims.

Northwestern Burkina Faso, near the country’s borders with Niger and Mali, experienced the most terror attacks, accounting for almost half of all attacks in 2023. Of the country’s 1 907 deaths in 2023, 1 000 occurred along the Niger border in Centre-Nord and Est. Burkina Faso’s deadliest attack of 2023 occurred in this area. In February, at least 71 soldiers were killed in the ambush. Security forces claimed to have killed 160 assailants in the fight, with Islamic State (IS) claiming responsibility for the attack. This was the fifth deadliest attack in the world in 2023, the IEP noted.

Civilians were the most targeted group for the fifth consecutive year, accounting for 1 132 deaths or over 59% of all terror-related deaths in the country. This is an increase of more than 56% when compared to the year prior, when 725 civilians were killed.

Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) continues to be the most prominent terrorist group in Burkina Faso, although attacks remained static over the period, deaths increased almost fivefold, from 134 in 2022 to 616 in 2023. This resulted in a rise in the lethality of their attacks in Burkina Faso, averaging nearly 20 deaths per attack, a significant increase from 3.9 deaths per attack in 2022.

“Islamic State also increased its activity in Burkina Faso, claiming responsibility for seven attacks compared to two in the previous year. Although the overall number of IS attacks in the country remains relatively low, deaths did increase significantly, surpassing 100 for the first time with 174 deaths attributed to the group,” the GTI stated.

The report assessed it is highly likely that the number of deaths both groups were responsible for is significantly higher, as 85% of attacks and 59% of deaths in the country were attributed to unknown jihadist groups. This puts Burkina Faso amongst the countries with the highest rate of unclaimed terrorist attacks and deaths globally.

Burkina Faso’s deterioration in the 2024 GTI mirrors its poor performance in the 2023 Global Peace Index with the country recording the largest deterioration in peacefulness in sub-Saharan Africa. The formation of the Alliance of Sahel States, a collaboration between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, represents the regions effort to combat terrorism. In January 2024, this alliance withdrew from ECOWAS. The alliance formed after the French and UN troop withdrawals. Given the successive years of escalating violence and the uncertain political situation, Burkina Faso is likely to experience further increases in terrorism, the IEP determined.