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Attack on army base fuels Burkina Faso mutiny rumours

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An attack that reportedly killed over 100 soldiers on an army base in Burkina Faso has snowballed into speculation about unrest in the security forces, in a country where the military has been in power since 2022.

The leader of the military junta has since appeared on state TV in an attempt to debunk the rumours.

Burkina Faso has been battling Islamist insurgents for several years and about half the country is outside government control.

Jihadist group Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) has said it was behind last Tuesday’s attack in the northern town of Mansila.

The following day, there was an explosion near the headquarters of the state television.

What happened in Mansila?

According to several reports, armed men attacked the military base, located near the border with Niger, on 11 June.

Around 100 soldiers were killed and many others were missing, reports say, adding that several hundred civilians fled Mansila for neighbouring towns in search of safety.

Five days after the attack, JNIM, an al-Qaeda affiliate, said it was behind the attack, and that dozens of soldiers were killed.

The group shared a video showing a large amount of weapons and ammunition that it says were captured during the assault.

There are also videos of JNIM fighters riding motorbikes and shooting relentlessly in a remote village of mud-walled buildings.

The BBC has not been able to verify the video.

The armed forces have since blockaded Mansila and it is not possible to enter the city without a military convoy.

Commenting for the first time since the attack, Capt Ibrahim Traoré said the military had launched an operation after the attack, and sent reinforcement troops.

But he did not address a claim by JNIM that it carried out the attack.

What about the explosion at the state broadcaster?

A day after the Mansila attack, a rocket hit the parking area of state TV Radiotélévision Burkinabé (RTB) in the capital, Ouagadougou.

On its Facebook page, RTB described the event as a “shooting incident” that resulted in “two minor injuries, quickly taken care of by the presidential health service”.

Was the RTB incident part of a mutiny?

Even before the Mansila and RTB attacks, there was already speculation about internal tensions within the military.

Along with the public, soldiers had expressed frustration at the government’s failure to contain the security crisis after a series of high-profile attacks.

Like its counterparts in Mali and Niger, Burkina Faso’s junta came to power promising to end the jihadist insurgency.

But insecurity in Burkina Faso has increased dramatically since the army took power in 2022, kicking out French troops, saying they had not done enough to tackle the jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The junta has meanwhile deepened military ties with Russia.

Military sources told French broadcaster RFI that the 12 June state TV attack was linked to the army’s “internal situation” and that “things are not good”.

Jeune Afrique, another French outlet, reported that the rocket was fired from the nearby presidential palace by unidentified individuals while military leader Capt Ibrahim Traoré was chairing a cabinet meeting. Consequently, Capt Traoré’s security had to “exfiltrate” him, Jeune Afrique said.

But Capt Traoré denied reports of mutiny within the army.

“It’s absolutely not the case. We are here,” he said, in an address from outside the RTB office on Thursday.

He claimed that a rocket was launched into RTB’s courtyard by mistake by those who were guarding the television station. He said nobody died although some people were injured.

Local media outlets in Burkina Faso have downplayed the RTB incident and the Mansila attack, perhaps over fears of a crackdown.

The junta has suspended several local and international media outlets accused of bias in their coverage of military operations, jihadist attacks and alleged human rights abuses by security forces.

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