OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – Security forces disrupted a "large-scale attack" in Burkina Faso, arresting 13 suspects and seizing weapons and bomb-making materials in the west near Mali's border, the security minister said Friday.
News of the arrests comes two days before the West African nation holds elections, capping a turbulent year that began with a popular uprising in October 2014 and a brief, failed coup in September.
The arrests were linked to the investigation of an attack on a military police post last month in Samoroguan near the Malian border, Alain Zagre told state radio. In that attack, 50 assailants stormed the post, killing three military police officers and burning vehicles before retreating back to Mali.
The 13 suspects are from Burkina Faso and Mali, Zagre said, raising the possibility of the involvement of extremist groups active in the neighboring country.
"It was a large-scale attack that they were staging," he said.
Burkina Faso has largely been spared extremist violence. However, gunmen attacked another police post near Mali's border in August, and in April a Romanian security officer was kidnapped from the northern Tambao mining site. The Al Qaeda linked Al-Mourabitoun group claimed responsibility — the same group that said it carried out last week's hotel attack in Mali that killed 19.
Burkina Faso has set up checkpoints at the entrances to cities and plans to close its borders for Sunday's vote.
"The distractions of the election period could provide a greater opportunity for militants to enter Burkina Faso, most likely from Mali, and carry out attacks," said Simon Jennings, an analyst at London-based Assaye Risk. "Security operations in Mali also raise the potential for the country's militant groups and traffickers to be pushed further east toward Burkina Faso."