Suspected Islamist militants killed three members of Ivory Coast’s security forces overnight in attacks on the country’s border with jihadist-torn Burkina Faso, the army said Monday.
The raids come less than 10 months after a deadly attack on troops in the same area, and with warnings of jihadist plans to advance out of the Sahel and toward the Gulf of Guinea.
“About 60 heavily-armed terrorists coming from Burkina Faso” launched the first attack, targeting security forces in Kafolo, the army said in a statement.
Troops repelled the attackers after an hour of intense fighting and launched a sweep of the area, which is ongoing, the statement from army chief of staff General Lassina Doumbia, said.
Three suspected militants were also killed in the attack, the army said.
Four members of the security forces were wounded, four assailants were detained and weapons, ammunition, motorbikes and radio communication equipment were seized, it said.
A second attack took place in Kolobougou in the Tehini department, also bordering Burkina Faso, it said.
Assailants hit a post of the gendarmerie, a police force that is under the control of the ministry of defence, killing one gendarme and wounding another.
“There has currently been no sighting of enemy casualties” from the second attack, it said.
Fourteen soldiers were killed in a night-time attack in Kafolo on June 10 last year.
No group claimed responsibility for that raid, although the assailants are suspected to have been jihadists who crossed over from Burkina Faso, which has been struggling with an Islamist insurgency since 2015.
In March 2016, 19 people were killed in a jihadist attack in Grand-Bassam, a vacation resort near Ivory Coast’s economic capital Abidjan.
Security experts have long warned that the jihadist campaign in the Sahel, which sprang up in northern Mali in 2012 before advancing into Niger and Burkina Faso, could spread into countries on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.
Last month, in a rare public intervention, the head of France’s foreign intelligence service Bernard Emie said that Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists were working on plans to extend their attacks south of Burkina Faso.
“These countries are themselves now targets,” he said. “The terrorists are already financing men who are spreading out in Ivory Coast and Benin.”
French and Ivorian security services say several attacks have been thwarted thanks to cooperation between the intelligence services of Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso and France.
President Alassane Ouattara, speaking to AFP while campaigning last October for re-election, said Ivory Coast had stepped up “military protection on the border,” with enhanced intelligence and “technological tools.”
“We have cleared out the (Kafolo) zone, we are ready to face any possible threat,” he said.
France has 900 troops at a military base in Ivory Coast in addition to the deployment of 5,100 personnel under Operation Barkhane, an anti-jihadist mission launched in the Sahel in 2014. AFP