Twelve people have died mysteriously in a prison cell in Burkina Faso, hours after they were arrested for terror-related offences.
A Burkina Faso prosecutor has launched an investigation into the deaths which occurred in Fada N’Gourma, around 140 miles east of the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou.
The men were reportedly part of a group of 25 people arrested on Monday night for suspected terrorist activities. “Unfortunately 12 of them died during the same night in cells where they were being held,” Judicael Kadeba, the prosecutor, said in a statement.
The West African nation of Burkina Faso is at the heart of a grim war spilling out across the Sahel region of Africa. A myriad of armed groups, some allied to Islamic State and Al Qaeda, are wreaking havoc across the region in what experts call the fastest growing jihadist insurgency in the world.
Close to a million people were forced to flee the violence last year and both northern and eastern Burkina Faso have been rendered almost completely inaccessible to humanitarian organisations. Security forces are struggling to contain the jihadists and hundreds of soldiers have been killed since attacks began four years ago.
As state forces have retreated from rural areas, the terrorists have strengthened their hold over dozens of gold mining operations and trafficking routes. They use the lucrative profits to buy more arms and keep the fighting going.
The news of the deaths in eastern Burkina Faso comes after a series of allegations of extrajudicial killings by the Burkinabe security forces. Last month, Human Rights Watch, a rights group based in New York, alleged that security forces executed 31 detainees on April 9th in the northern town of Djibo.
Corinne Dufka, the Sahel director of HRW, said the events in Djibo “may amount to a war crime and could fuel further atrocities”.