A mine worker shot during an ambush on a mining convoy in Burkina Faso said he was one of only three survivors from a bus with up to 80 people aboard, suggesting the death toll may be higher than officially reported.
Abel Kabore (35) described the attackers, some speaking a foreign language and shouting “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is great” – raking three buses with bullets after a security vehicle escorting the convoy hit a landmine.
The first two buses escaped, he said.
“The three buses were shot … there were so many dead. It was over 100. We were on the ground. We saw everything,” he said at a hospital in Ouagadougou. Of the people on his bus, “only three of us survived.”
Another survivor, who worked for Australian mining services provider Perenti, said he was in the fifth bus, about 500m from the vehicle hit by the explosion.
Gunmen fired at the bus for an hour, he said, then came aboard to execute survivors.
“These were the last prayers we were praying,” he said, asking not to be identified for security reasons. “I pretended I was dead – that was all I could do.”
When he was finally able to leave the bus, he had to climb over the dead bodies of his co-workers. “I saw a body facing up. I knew him. He looked untouched and I called out to him but he didn’t answer. Then I touched him and knew he was dead.”
A security source in the sector and a worker at the mine previously said the convoy was likely carrying around 250 people in all, leaving dozens unaccounted for based on the authorities’ casualty list of 38 dead and 60 wounded.
Neither Canadian gold miner Semafo nor the Burkinabe authorities confirmed how many people were in the convoy when it was ambushed last Wednesday on a road leading to the company’s Boungou mine in eastern Burkina Faso.
Perenti said 19 of its workers were killed in the attack and 20 went to hospital. They worked for its African Mining Services unit, contracted by Semafo for work at its Boungou mine.
Panicked workers tried to flee the buses during the attack, then scrambled back aboard away from gunmen in the bush, said another wounded survivor, Bakary Sanou.
“People were trying to get back into the buses. I tried to run away into the bush and saw the attackers went back to the buses, opened the doors and tried to kill everyone,” said Sanou.
The bodies of 29 victims were formally identified on Friday, public prosecutor Harouna Yoda said in a statement, adding families would be allowed in the morgue of Bogodogo District Hospital in Ouagadougou.
Distraught and angry relatives earlier complained authorities were not letting them view the bodies.
“Government should allow at least one family member to identify a body,” Ismail Roamba told Reuters.
It is still unclear who carried out Wednesday’s ambush. Yoda said government had opened an investigation.
A home-grown, three-year-old insurgency has spread over parts of Burkina Faso, amplified by a spill-over of Islamist militant violence and criminality from Mali.
In 2016, an Islamist attack on a hotel and restaurant in the capital killed 30 people. A similar assault the next year killed 19. In 2018, militants hit the French Embassy and army headquarters in Ouagadougou, killing 16.
Boungou mine is in Burkina Faso’s eastern region 350 km from Ouagadougou. Semafo said the mine site is secure. It suspended operations.
Canada condemned the attack and offered condolences to victims. “Canada remains concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and deplores violent attacks on civilians,” its foreign ministry said.
“We will continue to work with Burkina Faso and partners in the region to prevent conflict and fight terrorism.”