BY VIRGILE AHISSOU
COTONOU, BENIN (AP) — Attacks by suspected Islamic extremists in northern Benin have killed at least eight people, including army soldiers, park rangers and a French instructor, the government has confirmed.
Six people were killed and a dozen injured in an ambush Tuesday which included explosions from improvised land mines on a patrol of park rangers in the north of the W National Park near the borders of neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, Benin government spokesman Wilfried Leandre Houngbedji said.
Five rangers and their French instructor were killed in that attack, he said.
The rangers were part of an anti-poaching patrol working with African Parks, an international organization that manages several parks on the continent including the W National Park. The W park is shaped like the letter in the alphabet as it follows the bends in the Niger River as it straddles Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Reinforcements from the Benin Armed Forces have been deployed to the area and African Parks is working with the government to secure its staff and the surrounding civilian communities, the spokesman said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but Islamic extremist groups with links to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have spread violence across West Africa, including to coastal countries, like Benin.
The French National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s office says it has opened an investigation into the killings, adding that the French instructor involved was 50 years old.
A second attack occurred on Thursday in which a parks patrol hit an improvised landmine and then was assaulted. A civilian and a parks agent died in that incident, he said.
There have been multiple attacks against Benin’s armed forces since December, according to an internal security report seen by The Associated Press. In December two Benin soldiers were killed by jihadis near the border with Burkina Faso.
The government has warned that security is critical because of the presence of extremists near an area called the “triple point” where the park borders all three countries.
The latest attacks in Benin raise concerns about the potential spread of militant violence spilling over from the Sahel region,” said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory. “The risk would be a potential security crisis, particularly in the north of the country, which would overwhelm the security apparatus there, something that should be prevented early on.”