Abu Fadima, the first jihadist sentenced in Burkina Faso

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Ouagadougou central prison, in 2018.

Abu Fadima’s dark eyes betray neither remorse nor regret. His gaze, impenetrable, fixes an invisible point, a few centimeters from the ground. Sitting on a chair in the middle of the clay courtyard of the high security prison near Ouagadougou, the 39-year-old inmate speaks fearlessly. He who thought he was “Executed” says he has nothing more to lose. In August, the Burkinabe justice sentenced him to twenty years in prison for “criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise”, “damage to property” and “illegal possession of firearms and ammunition”.

On the dock of the Ouaga II tribunal de grande instance, he pleaded guilty. The attack on the school principal, his home burnt down, the stolen motorcycles … ” Yes “, it was him, he had recognized in front of the jurors. Abu Fadima – his nom de guerre – is the first jihadist tried in Burkina Faso since the attacks by Islamist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS) began six years ago. The World Africa was able to speak exclusively with the detainee, on October 9, in this prison, the location of which is kept secret.

“I was sure they were going to execute me”

His life “Before”, in his village near Djibo (north), seems that of another man. A distant past, almost erased from his memory. Like other farmers in this arid region, this father of four had decided to leave to the conquest of gold to supplement his income and feed his family.

It all started there, on artisanal gold mining, when armed men came to preach and talk about Ibrahim Malam Dicko, the founder of the Burkinabe jihadist group Ansaroul Islam (given for dead since 2017). Before taking up arms, the Fulani imam headed an Islamic association and, in the 2010s, harangued in mosques and local radio stations. Ibrahim Malam Dicko denounced injustices, advocated equality between social classes and a rigorous Islam.

Abu Fadima never went to school. The speeches he listens to on his phone seduce him, as do the imam’s criticisms against “The education of whites”. In 2018 – he does not remember the day or the month – he was offered to leave everything to join the ranks of Ansaroul Islam and “Work for God”. The gold digger is sent to a training camp “Near Mali”. “There were three bases with between 20 and 40 Burkinabé combatants”, reports the inmate in a mechanical voice. There, during ” a month “, in the middle of the sand dunes of the Sahel region, he learns to handle a weapon, studies the Koran and takes care of the cooking.

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Until the camp chief gives him his first “Mission” against the koglweogo, a local vigilante group, in Bafina, about a hundred kilometers away. “The order was to threaten them and engage in combat if they attacked”, continues Abu Fadima, who accuses this militia, created to fight against banditry, of“Stop” and of “Undress” inhabitants.

On May 2, 2018, he left with a small group, armed with his Kalashnikov and armed with a black flag bearing the seal of the Prophet Muhammad. After setting fire to the headquarters of koglweogo, empty that day, they head to the village school. “We wanted to arrest the teachers because they collaborate with the government and the army”, indicates the condemned man, shaved head and long beard, who advocates the teaching of Sharia in the classroom.

That evening, the principal is preparing his lessons when he sees Abu Fadima and five “Turbaned men”. Terrified, he goes out raising his right hand and recites a sura. An assailant orders him to lie down on the ground and blindfolds him. “I heard a gun being loaded, I was sure they were going to execute me”, testifies today the director of 48 years, on condition of anonymity. The attackers set fire to his house and steal his motorcycle, before fleeing. They are overtaken by koglweogo then handed over to the police.

“Ideologists” and “fighters”

For Emile Zerbo, the prosecutor of the anti-terrorism pole, Abou Fadima was a “Soldier who carried out the orders of the chiefs” within Ansaroul Islam: “He was enlisted in ideological jihad, the group had ascendancy over him, he was ready to kill. “

Since he opened his first investigation after the attack on the gendarmerie in Samorogouan (southwest), on October 9, 2015, the magistrate, one of the few to have specialized in anti-terrorism in Burkina, has tried to to decipher the roots of local jihadism. In its files, the profiles are multiple. From “Ideologues”, from “Fighters” responsible for laying a mine on a road before the passage of a military convoy against 200,000 CFA francs (300 euros), others enlisted for ” get revenge “ abuses by the army, peasants ” trapped ” in their village, forced to warn of the arrival of the army on pain of execution.

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In Burkina Faso, where armed jihadism is a relatively recent phenomenon, it took time to recognize the existence of a “Endogenous terrorism”. “We were initially surprised, then we thought that the enemy was coming from abroad, in particular from neighboring Mali, before discovering that 90% of the prisoners, during the operations, were Burkinabés”, reports Colonel-Major Théodore Naba Palé, former secretary general of national defense.

A finding that is difficult to accept for a part of the population, which regularly points to the Fulani community, very present in the Sahel region but in a minority nationwide. However, in his files, the prosecutor reports seeing “All ethnicities”, including Mossi, the majority group in Burkina – like Abou Fadima.

“My heart has become hard”

Since the detainee was transferred to the maximum security prison, he has spent his days in “Read the Koran” in its small cell or under a sheet metal awning in the court. ” There is nothing else to do “, he assures. It’s been four months since he received a visit – since that of his mother, who came to give him some news of his wife and children who remained in the village.

In the establishment, the inmates are busy as best they can. Some garden in a red blouse, others play sports or are glued to their radios, “Watching for the announcement of a new attack”, says an informed source. Many are walled in silence. There is no deradicalization program in this prison, where several children accused of acts are also detained. of terrorism, installed in separate prefabricated buildings.

Due to prison overcrowding, suspected terrorists are mostly mixed with other prisoners. “When you have jihadist leaders with bandits and suspects, the prison becomes a hotbed of radicalization”, alert the prosecutor. In such an environment, Abou Fadima “Will not change and will remain a danger for society”, regrets Emile Zerbo. “My heart has become hard, I don’t believe in justice, we will continue to fight until the end”, claims the detainee in white boubou, before being escorted back to his cell by a guard in fatigues.

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Since the attack, the director of the Bafina school has preferred to flee his village. He lives in fear and jumps at the slightest noise of a motorcycle. “I have nightmares in which people come back to kill me. I lost everything, how can I forgive him? “, breathes the teacher, who assures to have never been taken in charge psychologically nor touched the damages and interests of 2 million CFA francs which are due to him. Abu Fadima being unable to pay this sum, he filed a complaint with the Treasury. In Burkina Faso, there is still no compensation fund for civilian victims of acts of terrorism.

The teacher’s only meager consolation is to have “Finally seen” the face of his attacker, on the occasion of the trial, and to know him in prison for several years. ” But after ? “, he asks.

Summary of the series “Burkina: a punishment against terrorism”

The feeling of injustice continues to worsen in Burkina Faso, where jihadist attacks, intercommunal reprisals and abuses blamed on the security forces have left more than 3,700 dead since 2015, according to the latest count from the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled).

Faced with the spiral of violence, the families of the victims demand the right to the truth and to reparation. But in the field, the investigations are long and tedious. Between security threats and the lack of resources, the magistrates of the specialized pole are struggling to carry out their mission. In the meantime, around 900 suspected terrorists are crowding into the cells of the country’s high security prison, near Ouagadougou.

While on August 9, for the first time in six years, five jihadists were sentenced in the country, The World Africa investigated the difficulties of anti-terrorism justice and the path of detainees and their families.

episode 1 Judges “overwhelmed” by jihadist violence
Episode 2 Abu Fadima, the first jihadist sentenced in Burkina Faso

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