Government spokesman Remis Fulgance Dandjinou told The Associated Press he didn't know who was behind the violence. The villages that were attacked, however, are known to be populated by Fulani herdsman who have been targeted by local defense groups and the army for their alleged affiliation with jihadists.
A resident from Ouahigouya, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his safety, told the AP that the attacks occurred after jihadists sought shelter in the town of Dinguila. Local defense groups followed the extremists to the town and massacred people, he said.
Analysts say the attack signifies a worrying trend. "This is also one of the areas where we have identified a significant risk of increased stigmatization against the Fulani," said William Assanvo, senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies. This is the first massacre of this scale in that area, he said.
This trend is also occurring in neighboring Mali, said Christian Poonwah, director of Safer Access Consulting, an international security company in Ouagadougou. "This speaks to the wider trend of growing fault lines between local communities. This is further exacerbated by extremist groups capitalizing on the inter-communal violence and attracting targeted communities to their side," he said.
Attacks by militants linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaida have shaken the West African nation. Almost 2,000 more fatalities were reported last year than in 2018 -- a six-fold increase -- according to a report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which collects and analyzes conflict information.
__ Associated Press reporter Arsene Kabore in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso contributed.