Confirmed by the Spanish prime minister, Western media reports that two Spanish filmmakers and the Irish president of a conservation non-governmental organization (NGO) were murdered in Burkina Faso near the border with Benin on April 26. Roberto Fraile and David Beriain were in Burkina Faso working on a documentary about poaching. They were accompanied by Rory Young, a Zambia-born Irish citizen who headed Chengeta Wildlife, an NGO devoted to training local residents to counter wildlife poaching; Chengeta reports it trained ninety rangers and other personnel in Africa last year.
Though details are unclear, it appears that the victims were part of a convoy of forty that was attacked. Six others were injured and a Burkinabe soldier is missing. The fate of the rest is unreported, making it likely that they survived at least the initial attack, though contact with the group was lost. Media reports are situating the murders in the context of the upsurge of jihadi activity across the country. Perhaps. But the eastern region where the attack took place, situated on the border with Niger and Benin—rather than the “Three Borders” region shared with Niger and Mali, a more longstanding jihadi hotspot—is also characterized by criminal gangs often involved in poaching, robbery, and kidnapping. That the attack was motivated by criminals protecting poaching cannot be dismissed. Jihadi groups and criminal gangs would often appear to overlap; both make use of kidnapping.
That the three Europeans were murdered rather than held for ransom is curious. In the Sahel, Europeans from rich democracies are prime targets. Public pressure to secure the release of kidnapping victims encourages European governments (or other entities) to pay enormous ransoms. Whoever the perpetrators, the three tragic murders are emblematic of the accelerating breakdown of security in the Sahel.