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Bodies of Europeans killed in Burkina Faso await repatriation flight

The bodies of two Spanish journalists and an Irish wildlife activist killed in eastern Burkina Faso were on Wednesday awaiting repatriation from the capital Ouagadougou, where they had been brought by helicopter late the previous night.

Burkina has suffered jihadist attacks since 2015
Burkina has suffered jihadist attacks since 2015

Spain, Ireland and Burkina were discussing details of the flight for the remains, a government source in Ouagadougou said, including whether the Europeans’ bodies would be returned on one or two separate aircraft.

“No date has been set” for now, the source said.

Spain’s foreign ministry said it had “set up a military flight to repatriate the bodies once Burkina Faso authorities give their authorisation.”

It hoped to transfer them “as soon as possible.”

Journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile were accompanying Irish ONG chief Rory Young on an anti-poaching patrol in the Arly National Park on Monday when they were attacked, Young’s Chengeta Wildlife group said, calling the assailants “terrorists”.

Security sources said the attackers had approached the patrol, which also included soldiers and forest rangers, in pickup trucks and on motorbikes.

Initially reported missing and the subjects of a major search, the Burkina authorities said Tuesday the foreigners had been “executed by terrorists.”

One Burkina national remains missing following the attack, the government source said.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney called Young’s death a “tragic loss of life” in a statement Wednesday.

According to the Chengeta Wildlife website, Young was born in Zambia and co-authored an anti-poaching manual.

In Spain, daily El Pais wrote that “too often, the best journalists, those who risk their lives in forgotten places and many in precarious conditions, are only noted when they are killed or kidnapped, almost never when they produce a reportage.”

The two reporters’ deaths were the top headline for most Spanish papers and broadcast bulletins.

Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez said the two hailed from Spain’s northwestern Basque region.

Beriain was a war reporter who worked for a now defunct Spanish branch of CNN and had founded his own production house specialising in documentary work.

Fraile formerly worked for Spain’s CyLTV. According to Spanish media reports, he was wounded in Syria at the end of 2012 while covering the Free Syrian Army.

In Ouagadougou, public television workers observed a minute’s silence Wednesday for the two reporters.

Out on the street, the high-profile killings added to the helplessness felt by many in the face of a jihadist insurgency that has plagued Burkina and neighbouring countries, notably Mali and Niger, since 2015.

“These days terrorists are plunging Burkina into mourning, they’re killing Burkinabe people, they’re killing foreigners… we condemn this barbaric act,” said bookseller Jacques Zoungrana.

Once largely confined to Burkina’s north, killings blamed on jihadist groups like the al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have more recently targeted other parts of the country.

More than 1,300 people have been killed and one million have fled the violence since 2015. AFP