Saturday, January 16, 2016

Al-Qaeda attacks a hotel in Burkina Faso, killing 27 people. AP

The scene of the attack. AP Television. 

Al-Qaeda conducted an attack on a hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, which killed 23 civilians and four terrorists. AP. Local security forces, along with French Special forces, retook the hotel from the four terrorists and freed over one hundred people that had been taken hostage. 33 people were wounded as well. Two of the attackers were female, and much of the area was damaged or destroyed during the battle. French forces arrived from nearby Mali and had the assistance of at least one American soldier. AQIM, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, took responsibility for the attack, claiming that they had killed many "crusaders" in the attack. Though Burkina Faso is a majority Muslim country, until recently they have had very little in the way with problems with Islamic extremists. The country has not been stable though, due to a recent coup and a popular uprising. 

My Comment:
I know next to nothing about Burkina Faso other then it was a West African country. A few seconds on Google tells me that it is a landlocked country between both Mali and the coast. Though it has had a bunch of political instability lately, which I was vaguely aware before today, it isn't a country that comes up in the news all that much. Unfortunately that's not the case today. 

I did know about AQIM before though. They were at one point a major terrorist threat but I was under the impression that the French had largely destroyed them during their various operations in Mali and the rest of Northwest Africa. They have pulled off terror attacks before but their main goal seemed to be kidnapping, which was rather profitable for them. Still much of their leadership is dead and many of their fighters were killed during that conflict as well. 

The fact that AQIM was able to pull this attack off is somewhat worrying. Most of the recent attacks in Africa have either been pulled off by ISIS or ISIS's affiliate in Central Africa, Boko Haram. Al-Qaeda had fallen off of the map, at least in West Africa. Pulling off a major terrorist attack like this shows that they are still in the game as well, and if this attack is any indication, they might be just as dangerous as ISIS is in the region. 

The attack also has the hallmarks of an ISIS style attack. Instead of targeting a spectacular target, like an airliner or landmark, they sent a small team of gunmen to cause as much chaos as they could against a soft target. Strangely though, this attack wasn't pulled off by ISIS. In the past al-Qaeda did not do these kinds of attacks, opting to go with the massive planned ones that were vulnerable to disruption like 9/11 and various other bombings. I have said for a long time that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were a game changer. Ever since that attack al-Qaeda and ISIS have largely moved away from their traditional terrorist targets and adapted these kinds of gunmen attacks. They still pull of bombings, and in some of their recent attacks they have used both methods, but the gunmen attacks are becoming much more common. Since those attacks are much easier to pull off and harder to disrupt, this does not bode well for the future. 

It seems like this attack was targeting Westerners. From what I understand the hotel and cafe that were attacked were popular among tourists, and many people from several different countries were killed. Reuters is reporting that Russians, Chinese and Americans were killed in the attack and that the cafe/casino that was attacked as well was popular among French soldiers stationed in the area. I don't know why there would be so many foreigners in the area, but I am guessing most of them would be diplomats and aid workers. Burkina Faso doesn't seem to be a hot destination for tourism after all. Especially with all the instability in the area and the recent Ebola outbreak that happened just a few countries over. 

Many people don't realize that the French have a large military presence in West Africa. The French are very active in their former colonial possessions and have deployed major forces to combat groups like AQIM. Their battles against the group in Mali were largely successful and they did way more damage to the group then they were able to  inflict on the French. I'm not sure if this attack was payback for their defeat in the war or if it is just another attack on Westerners. Either way, the French should be commended for their quick response to this attack and their general military competence in the region. 

This attack does go to show that even utterly destroying ISIS will not end the threat from Islamic extremism. ISIS not the only game in town and there other very dangerous groups that aren't affiliated with them. Al-Qaeda is still a huge threat. Though the core of their group in Afghanistan and Pakistan are a mere shadow of their former threat, they have many affiliates of their own. AQIM is one of the larger ones, but even after this attack, they aren't the most dangerous. That title has to go to AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. They are the ones that pulled off the Charlie Hebdo attacks last year and they control territory in Yemen. And even they aren't the only game in town. If ISIS were to be destroyed, and there is no indication that is even close to happening, al-Qaeda would still exist and would become the premier terrorist group in existence again...   

There have been quite a few attacks lately and I haven't been able to cover them. ISIS hit Jakarta in Indonesia earlier in the week but I wanted to cover the Ebola crisis and the 6th Republican debate instead. At the time I thought that attack was fairly minor but it turned out to be a major attack with several deaths. Though that attack wasn't as bad as this one, I still feel bad about not covering it. But with limited time sometimes you have to make tough choices. 

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