MADRID (AP) – The bodies of two Spanish journalists and an Irish wildlife activist killed by jihadists in Burkina Faso this week while filming a poaching documentary were flown home on Friday as several European countries promised to continue fighting extremism in Africa Sahel region.
David Beriáin, 44, and Roberto Fraile, 47, journalists with extensive experience in conflict zones, had joined Irish conservationist Rory Young on an anti-poaching patrol led by a special military wild force in eastern Burkina Faso as their convoy was ambushed Monday by jihadists. .
According to Spanish authorities, the three Europeans and a Burkinabe soldier were killed. The Burkina Faso government said six other people were injured in the attack and one is still missing.
The Europeans were flown overnight from the capital of the African nation, Ouagadougou, on an Airbus provided by the Spanish military. An honor guard carried their coffins out of the plane at a military airport near Madrid, where relatives of Spanish journalists were waiting with Spanish officials and the Irish ambassador to Spain.
The minister announced that the two journalists would be awarded Spain’s Civil Merit Order, recognizing extraordinary contributions from individuals.
The two-man crew made a documentary about how Burkina Faso authorities tackle poaching, and also focus on the people who live in the park. Young, director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation, led the patrol in Arly National Park, the group said on Facebook.
Two soldiers wounded in the attack said they were trying to protect foreigners during fighting that lasted three hours but were subordinate to the jihadists. A foreign worker from the Wildlife Foundation survived, the soldiers told the Associated Press, insisting on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Burkina Faso has been overrun by attacks linked to Islamic extremists who have killed thousands and displaced more than 1 million people.
Violence has risen this week in the hard-hit eastern and northern parts of the country. On the same day, the anti-poaching patrol was ambushed, 18 people were killed by gunmen in the Sahel region. In a statement this week, the government said “terrorists have carried out threats, looting and killings” of civilians.
The governments of Spain, France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement that they were committed to supporting the battered region with military training and supplies, but also with humanitarian aid to provide the much needed stability there.
“The area is experiencing enormous turbulence with major geostrategic risks for our country,” said González Laya of Spain.
Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said “the fight against terrorism will not stop, we will be relentless.” She also said Spanish intelligence officials were on the scene and supported the Burkinabe government’s investigation into the killings.
Her ministry later said in a statement that journalists had taken “all precautions” but that Burkinabe forces, which initially managed to repel the attack, were later “overwhelmed by the attackers’ firepower”. In an initial assessment of the attack, the ministry concluded that the weapons and means used were not by traffickers or furtive hunters, but “by one of the jihadist groups operating in the region.”
Rights groups say there must be a thorough and impartial investigation into the killings.
We (We need to know) the circumstances surrounding their death, (which) can help prevent such tragic killings in the future, ”said Corinne Dufka, Director of Human Rights Watch in West Africa.
Mednick reported from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.