Dozens of people were feared still missing on Thursday after an ambush on workers near a Canadian-owned mine in Burkina Faso killed at least 37 and wounded 60 in the worst such attack in the West African nation for years.
Quebec-based gold miner Semafo said five of its buses with a military escort came under fire on the road leading to its Boungou mine in the eastern region of Est, about 40 kilometres from Boungou, on Wednesday.
“We are devastated by this unprecedented attack,” Benoit Desormeaux, president and CEO of Semafo, said in a statement Thursday. “Our sincerest sympathies go out to the families and colleagues of the victims. Our priority is their safety, security and wellbeing.”
Operations at the Boungou mine suspended
Given the scale of the attack, it will take some time for the Montreal-based to properly deal with it and support all those affected, Desormeaux added.
“Boungou mine site remains secured, but we have suspended operations out of respect to the victims and those impacted and to ensure the highest levels of operational safety,” Desormeaux said. “We continue to actively work with all levels of authorities to ensure the ongoing safety, security and well-being of our employees, contractors and suppliers.”
The Canadian government also condemned the attack on the convoy.
“To date, we have no reports of any Canadian citizens being affected,” Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Sylvain Leclerc told Radio Canada International in an email.
“We offer sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims, and wish those injured a speedy recovery. Canada stands in solidarity with the Burkinabè people and supports Burkina Faso’s efforts to consolidate peace and stability and in its fight against terrorism.”
Deteriorating security situation
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the high death toll and targeting of a foreign company’s employees suggest that well-armed jihadists carried out the assault.
Prime Minister Christophe Dabire tweeted Thursday that Burkina Faso is still reeling from the news of the attack, and he sent his condolences to the families of those killed.
The ambush underscores the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso, which observers say has increasingly become a refuge for jihadists from neighbouring Mali and Niger.
Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, was hit by extremist violence for the first time in January 2016. At least 30 people were killed after the militants targeted a cafe popular with foreigners.
Then in August 2017, 18 people were killed in an attack on a Turkish restaurant in the capital. Jihadists have attacked churches across the north but also have focused on foreign business interests.
Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency for the country’s border regions, including Est region where the latest attack occurred, on Jan. 1.
Militants have targeted mining companies in at least ten separate attacks since September 2017.
On Jan. 15, Canadian geologist Kirk Woodman was kidnapped and killed by a jihadist group that raided a mining operation of Vancouver-based Progress Mineral Mining Company near the country’s restive border with Niger and Mali.
According to security experts, the threat from terrorism and kidnapping remains high in Burkina Faso’s Sahel and Est regions.
With files from Reuters and The Associated Press