Burkina Faso security forces said Tuesday they feared for the lives of four people including three Westerners who were abducted while taking part in an anti-poaching patrol in the east of the country.
The landlocked West African nation is struggling with a ruthless insurgency by Islamists who swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015.
An intensive manhunt was underway for two Spaniards, an Irishman, and a Burkinabe national seized on Monday, security sources said.
A top security source told AFP that eyewitness accounts have led to fears that the abductees “may have been killed by the terrorists”, adding that hopes of finding the victims alive “diminish with each passing hour”.
He said, “large-scale searches… have still produced no results”.
The source also said he could not authenticate images circulating on social media claiming to show the victims.
“I have not seen these Westerners before,” he added.
A Spanish foreign ministry source told AFP in Madrid that two Spanish nationals were missing, while a security source in Burkina Faso said an Irish man was also among the group.
The convoy of soldiers, forest rangers and foreign reporters came under attack in the Fada N’Gourma-Pama area, according to a local official, who said three people were injured in the assault.
A security source confirmed that the Westerners “were working on behalf of an NGO protecting the environment” in the country, without naming the organisation.
“According to survivors, two of the foreigners were wounded during the attack. The search is ongoing” to find the four missing people, the source added.
The attackers were aboard two pick-up vehicles and a dozen motorbikes, according to security sources.
They said the assailants made off with vehicles and various weapons.
The Spanish foreign ministry source said Madrid’s embassy in Mali, which is accredited in Burkina Faso, “is in close contact with the families who are being kept informed about the events and the searches to find” the two Spaniards.
Almost 1,100 people have died and more than a million people have fled their homes since 2015 in Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries.
Numerous other foreign workers have been kidnapped in Burkina Faso, a former French colony.
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.