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Islamist militants kidnapped around 50 women in northern Burkina Faso, the government confirmed Monday, marking the first mass kidnapping in the West African nation as it continues to fight a years-long jihadist insurgency, Reuters reported.
Officials said armed men kidnapped the women in two different locations in the northern province of Soum. Relatives said the missing women were foraging for food just outside their villages.
While Westerners and locals are occasionally kidnapped, women have never been abducted in such large numbers – unlike in Nigeria, where mass abductions by the Boko Haram insurgents are not uncommon.
The kidnappings come as Burkina Faso and other West African countries try to hold back Islamist insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. According to the United Nations, over the past few years, thousands of people have been killed and more than 2.7 million have been displaced across the Sahel, where insecurity has hampered agriculture and contributed to growing hunger levels.
Insurgents have blockaded areas of the arid north in recent months, causing major food shortages and making it difficult to deliver supplies to trapped citizens.
Frustration with the government’s inability to restore security and protect citizens fueled two military coups in Burkina Faso last year.