‘Wet With Blood’: Survivors Describe Burkina Faso Massacre
The brutal attack lasted about six hours.
When it was over, at least 156 people were dead. Some of the victims were blindfolded, some were babies under a month old, killed on their mothers’ backs.
The late April attack in Karma, a village in Burkina Faso’s northern Yatenga province, was perpetrated by more than 100 people in Burkinabé military uniforms who rode in on motorcycles, in pickup trucks and armored cars.
“We were on the way to the well with my donkey when we saw them moving towards us,” child survivor Belem Lassane told Al-Jazeera. “We hid in our homes. Our father came out. They took our identifications and started firing at them, killing them all. They then destroyed the homes and killed our mothers. I was hiding underneath piles of bodies as they continued to fire at us.”
The assailants killed 11 more people in nearby villages the same day, according to Burkinabé human rights organization Collective Against Impunity and Stigmatisation of Communities. The areas around Karma are hot spots of illegal mining.
Survivors of the Karma attack said the apparent Burkinabé soldiers arrived about 7:30 a.m. They went door to door searching and looting homes. They rounded up villagers and opened fire, even on those who begged for their lives.
“The soldiers told us to sit down,” a 40-year-old villager told Human Rights Watch (HRW). “In my group we were more than 30. Suddenly, they started shooting.”
The man said he played dead to save his life.
“I was lying on my belly after the first shot. I was wet with the blood from the others’ bodies,” the man said. “I kept still, terrified, until the soldiers left. Two of them came back to finish off those who were moving and still alive.”
The massacre occurred a week after six soldiers and 34 Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland, or VDP, were killed in an attack by suspected terrorists near the village of Aorema, about 40 kilometers from Karma, near the Malian border. The country’s security forces have struggled for years to quell a rebellion led by rebels linked with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
One witness told HRW that they saw members of the country’s Rapid Intervention Battalion 3 special forces unit heading for Karma that morning. The unit typically performs counterterror operations against the rebel groups.
“These people were dressed in black uniforms, others in greenish combat fatigues,” a survivor told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “Some had helmets, others wore balaclavas, and they were on several pickup trucks and motorcycles.”
Unlawful killings of civilians by extremist violent organizations and security forces have spiked since 2022, when the country experienced two military coups.
In early April, Burkina Faso’s military justice system announced that it would conduct an investigation into the February deaths of several civilians during altercations with soldiers near the northern town of Dori.
Witnesses told AFP that at least 12 people died after soldiers opened fire with automatic weapons. Residents also said the attack was a “punitive expedition” carried out by soldiers after the assassination of one of their members.
Burkina Faso has been caught in waves of terrorist violence that spread from Mali since 2012. The fighting has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced about 2 million.