Three Europeans – two Spanish and one Irish – were killed in an attack on an anti-poaching patrol in Burkina Faso, Burkinabe and Spanish officials confirmed Tuesday.
The three foreigners and a member of the Burkinabe armed forces went missing on Monday after a morning attack on a convoy of security forces, forest rangers and expatriates, according to Burkina Faso's government.
"It is very unfortunate, but the three Westerners were executed by terrorists," said a senior security source in the West African nation.
The attackers were aboard two pick-up vehicles and a dozen motorbikes, security sources added. The sources said the assailants made off with vehicles and various weapons after the attack.
Reporting from Madrid, FRANCE 24’s Henry De Laguerie said Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya confirmed that two of the bodies found in Burkina Faso were those of the missing Spanish journalists.
Foreign Minister Gonzalez Laya told a press conference that the two Spaniards were from northern Spain and were working on a documentary on how Burkina Faso authorities were tackling poaching and on the communities of people living in the wildlife park. They were travelling at the time of the attack in a group with about 40 people, she said.
“It is a dangerous area where terrorists, bandits, jihadists usually operate,” she said.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addressed the deaths of the two Spanish nationals in a tweeted statement.
"The worst news is confirmed. All our affection for the relatives and friends of David Beriain and Roberto Fraile (de Baracaldo), who were murdered in Burkina Faso," he tweeted.
He praised "those who, like them, carry out courageous and essential journalism from conflict zones".
Two soldiers wounded in the attack and evacuated to a military hospital in Ouagadougou earlier told AP they were attacked by jihadists who outnumbered their 15-person patrol.
One soldier was shot in the leg and the other in his arm, requiring it to be amputated. They insisted on anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press. When the jihadists attacked, the soldiers tried to form a protective shield around the foreigners, but once the shooting stopped they realised they had disappeared, he said.
“We were discouraged. It’s like you leave your house with 10 people, you go to work and then you come back with eight people. What do you say to those two people’s families?” said one of the soldiers.
The foreigners had been travelling with the rangers for approximately one week. Two of them were journalists and one was a trainer, said the soldiers. The rangers were conducting their first mission in Arly National Park after finishing a six-month anti-poaching training programme, he said.
Numerous other foreign workers have been kidnapped in recent years in the former French colony.
Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, is struggling with a ruthless insurgency by Islamists who swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015. Almost 1,100 people have died and more than a million people have fled their homes.
The secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, decried the attack.
"This tragedy confirms the great dangers reporters face in the Sahel region," he said on Twitter.
Monday's killing was not the first targeted attack in the country. A kidnapped priest was found dead in January days after he went missing in the jihadist-plagued southwest, his body found in a forest.
And last August, the grand imam of the northern town of Djibo turned up dead three days after gunmen stopped the car he was travelling in and kidnapped him.
In March 2019, a priest in Djibo was kidnapped, and in February 2018, a Catholic missionary, Cesar Fernandez, was murdered in the centre of the country.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)