Spanish reporters, Irish campaigner killed in Burkina Faso ambush

Burkina government confirms deaths of three foreigners killed in attack on anti-poaching patrol in country’s east.

The two journalists were traveling in a group with about 40 people, Spain's foreign minister said [File: Sia Kambou/AFP]

Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso, the Spanish government and Burkinabe officials have said.

Burkina Faso’s government confirmed late on Tuesday that three foreigners were killed in the attack on an anti-poaching patrol the previous day.

“The worst of news is confirmed,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had said on his Twitter account earlier on Tuesday, sending his condolences to the two men’s families. He named them as David Beriain and Roberto Fraile.

Translation: The worst news is confirmed. All the affection for the relatives and friends of David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, murdered in Burkina Faso. And our recognition to those who, like them, carry out courageous and essential journalism from conflict zones on a daily basis.

The Spanish nationals were working on a documentary on how Burkina Faso’s authorities were tackling poaching and on the communities of people living in the park, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told reporters. They were traveling 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.”

The film project also focusing on the communities of people living in the park, according to media content producer Movistar Plus. The company identified the Irish victim as Rory Young, director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation.

The Irish government had earlier said it was “aware of the reports and is liaising closely with international partners regarding the situation on the ground”.

Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, said on Twitter the press watchdog had learned from official sources in Burkina Faso that three journalists, including two Spanish reporters, who were investigating poaching “were killed in an attack in the east of the country”.

Burkina Faso has in recent years been gripped by escalating violence that has spread across the Sahel region to several countries including Niger and Mali.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on a road leading to the vast forested reserve of Pama.

The unit that was ambushed was part of a new joint army, police and forestry unit that had just gone through six months of training and was starting operations in conservation areas near the border with Benin and Togo.

Two soldiers wounded in the attack and evacuated to a military hospital in the capital, Ouagadougou, told The Associated Press news agency they were attacked by an armed group who outnumbered their 15-person patrol.

One soldier was shot in the leg and the other in his arm, causing it to be amputated.

When the fighters attacked, the soldiers tried to form a protective shield around the foreigners, but once the shooting stopped they realised they had disappeared, one of the soldiers 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 traveling with the rangers for approximately one week. Two of them were journalists and one was a trainer, said the soldiers.

Attacks by al-Qaeda and ISIL-affiliated groups since 2015 have killed almost 1,100 people and displaced more than a million across Burkina Faso. Numerous other foreign workers have been kidnapped.

In January this year, a priest went missing in the country’s southeast, sparking fears he had been kidnapped.

Last August, the grand imam of the northern town of Djibo was found 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies