A murderous rampage by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Burkina Faso that claimed the lives of six Quebeckers and at least 22 other people demonstrates the ease with which terror can be spread in disparate parts of the world and Canada's Foreign Minister says the international community must unite in its determination to stop it.
Four attackers, two of them women, stormed the Splendid Hotel in the capital city of Ouagadougou on Friday night, killing 18 people during a 12-hour siege. They also marched though a nearby café where another 10 victims lost their lives. Those who died were of multiple nationalities – American, Swiss, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian and the six from Canada who were in the West African country to work at schools and orphanages.
In the end, the perpetrators of the attacks, claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, were also killed. But authorities in the region as well as the government here in Canada said efforts must be made to thwart future carnage.
The prime ministers of Burkina Faso and Mali, a country that is a hot spot for the jihadi movement, agreed Sunday to work together by sharing joint intelligence and joint security patrols. And Canada has offered to assist the authorities of Burkina Faso in their investigation of the deadly incident.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said the attack in Burkina Faso is a reminder that Canada is not safe from terror threats. It follows explosions and a gun fight involving affiliates of the Islamic State in Jakarta last week that killed another Quebecker, as well as massive assaults on Paris in November that left 130 dead and a suicide bombing in Turkey earlier this month that killed 10.
"You have seen it in Burkina Faso, Turkey, Paris and we are affected by that and we need to fight with our allies," Mr. Dion said during a Trudeau government cabinet retreat in New Brunswick. "They are everywhere," he said of terrorists, adding Canada must "fight in strong co-operation with our allies: military, police and intelligence services."
The Canadian victims came from the tight-knit Quebec City bedroom community of Lac-Beauport.
Yves Carrier, 65, was a well-respected school principal who dove into volunteer work after he retired a few years ago. His wife, Gladys Chamberland, was a provincial civil servant who had joined Mr. Carrier on his most recent missions. Their son, Charlelie Carrier, was a 19-year-old student. His half-sister, Maude Carrier, a 37-year-old mother of two, was a school teacher. Family friends Louis Chabot and Suzanne Bernier were also educators in the local school system.
Mr. Carrier had organized previous missions with a small Quebec aid group, Centre amitié de solidarité internationale de la région des Appalaches, and the Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours order of nuns who have been working in Burkina Faso since 1955. One of the nuns identified the remains of the six Quebeckers.
"Every two years Mr. Carrier formed new groups and came back again to help at different levels," Sister Lise Desrochers said. "He did it in love and respect. His groups were always comfortable in what they did."
An audio tape released by the North African affiliate of al-Qaeda claiming responsibility for the carnage was titled A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts. Witnesses said the attackers arrived in a vehicle with licence plates for neighbouring Niger and spoke with an Arabic accent while screaming in French.
Both the café, which was set ablaze, and the hotel were popular with Westerners. Survivors said the militants appeared to be targeting which victims to kill.
Bruce Hoffman, the director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, said terrorist activities by groups such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State have been spreading throughout the region.
"I think it's more opportunistic than anything," he said of the Burkina Faso attack. "These groups don't have international capabilities, but they certainly have transnational ones that play upon the weakness of border controls but also of local security forces."
Killing locals does not generate international attention and outrage, Dr. Hoffman said, but killing Westerners is front-page news around the world, which is the aim of the terrorists.
Michael Zekulin, a terrorism expert who teaches at the University of Calgary, said al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are actually in direct competition with each other.
As the Islamic State has "been ascending so rapidly, a lot of us have been wondering basically where al-Qaeda is," Dr. Zekulin said. Al-Qaeda has "spent the past 25 years being the vanguard of this movement and basically these guys have come along and usurped them. And usually they don't take too kindly to that."
But the objectives of both terrorist organizations are the same, Dr. Zekulin said, and the reality is that "there are groups like this operating all over the world."
In a separate incident, two Australian humanitarian workers were abducted Friday by extremists in northern Burkina Faso. Surgeon Ken Elliott and his wife, Jocelyn, reported to be in their 80s, were abducted in the northern town of Djibo where they had run a medical centre for 40 years.
Cicely McWilliam of Save the Children Canada said that although the Burkina Faso attacks do not appear to have deliberately targeted aid workers, there is no question that the world has become more dangerous for people who provide humanitarian assistance – and more difficult for those they are trying to help. "We do our best to mitigate, but it doesn't mean we can eliminate all risk," Ms. McWilliam said.
Mr. Dion said Canadian aid workers overseas must stay cautious but should not succumb to fear. He urged them to remember "how much it's needed" and to avoid scaling back their work abroad. "We should not allow the terrorists to stop us from doing the right thing."