In Benin, the army suffers the first terrorist attacks in its history

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The signals had been red for months. Thursday, December 2, the terrorist threat looming over northern Benin materialized. During the night, two soldiers of the Beninese Armed Forces (FAB) were killed in the town of Porga, near the border with Burkina Faso. “A jihadist was shot dead by our forces”, said Colonel Fructueux Gbaguidi, Chief of Staff of the Army, in a message to Benin officers posted on social networks.

The day before, in the locality of Mékrou Yinyin, further east in the north of the country, soldiers “In a position of surveillance of the border zone” had already been targeted, according to a statement from the staff. From “Unidentified individuals” fired after trying “To bypass the prevention system in place”. An assailant was killed. “This new trial of fire reminds us in blood and pain that the danger is real on the ground”, lamented Colonel Fructueux Gbaguidi.

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The December 2 attack in Porga was attributed by several security sources to one of the small groups affiliated with the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM). “It could have been committed by men from the katiba Macina, a jihadist fighting unit based in Kompienga, a town in south-eastern Burkina Faso located near the Togolese and Beninese borders,” says Kars de Bruijne, conflict researcher at the Institute for International Relations in Clingendael, the Netherlands, and author of a report in June on the security situation in northern Benin. Operations led by Burkinabé forces took place in this region about three weeks ago and may have forced the jihadists to retreat to Benin. “

Incursions of armed men

The two attacks are the very first assaults launched by the jihadists against the Beninese army, according to the authorities. But the threat is not new. Since 2019, northern Benin, bordered by dense forest areas that are difficult to access, has seen an increase in incursions by armed men, a direct consequence of the expansion of terrorist groups in neighboring states: in eastern Burkina Faso. Faso and southern Niger.

1is May 2019, the kidnapping of two French tourists and the assassination of their Beninese guide, during a safari in the Pendjari park, one of the last sanctuaries of wildlife in West Africa, had come signal to the Beninese authorities that, from now on, the security threat of the Sahel was indeed at their doorstep. The two teachers were released by French special forces nine days later, at the cost of the lives of two petty officers.

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Since then, jihadists have proliferated in the forests of northern Benin, taking advantage of the situation of the Pendjari park, near the Burkinabe border to the north-west, and of the W park to the north-east, on the Niger side. They established rear bases there for the necessary logistical supplies to support their war effort in the Sahel.

To ward off possible assaults, the Beninese authorities have strengthened their security and intelligence capacities. At the end of March, a suspected terrorist of Burkinabé nationality was arrested in Pendjari by the rangers of African Parks, the organization responsible for monitoring this protected area. The patrol had identified three armed men on motorcycles and one of them opened fire. According to a security source, the fighters belonged to the GSIM.

Large joint operation

Between the end of October and the end of November, a dozen men, accused of being in contact with Islamist terrorists, were arrested in the department of Atacora, bordering Togo and Burkina Faso, and transferred to Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin to be heard by the Court for the Repression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism (CRIET). On October 31, residents of the village of Kourou, located in the same province, saw a group of men pass by in a pick-up and on motorcycles carrying heavy weapons and waving a black flag. The security forces then increased their numbers.

Understand : Did the French freed in Burkina Faso take reckless risks?

The attacks could also be a consequence of the large joint operation between the armies of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo, which took place between 21 and 27 November. According to the Burkinabé Minister of Security, Maxime Koné, it would have caused the death of dozens of terrorists and the arrest of « 300 suspects ».

1is February, Bernard Emié, the head of French foreign intelligence, was worried about the plans extension to the Gulf of Guinea of ​​GSIM, a group whose combatants have been operating in Mali since the start of the war in 2012, as well as in Burkina Faso and Niger. “To loosen the grip in which they are caught, and to spread southwards, the terrorists are already financing men who are spreading in Côte d’Ivoire and Benin”, underlined at the time the head of the DGSE.

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In Benin, the army suffers the first terrorist attacks in its history

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