Journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile killed in Burkina Faso

A group of armed men, considered "terrorists" by the local authorities, attacked the convoy in which they were travelling during the filming of a documentary

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Journalists David Beriain (on the left) and Roberto Fraile

SabadellDavid Beriain, a journalist from Navarre, and Roberto Fraile, a Basque journalist, have been killed in Burkina Faso. The two men were part of a convoy that was attacked by a group of armed men on Monday, and were initially reported missing. The Spanish government confirmed their deaths on Tuesday, and sources from Burkina Faso's security forces have told Reuters that an Irish citizen who was travelling with them has also been killed, although there is no official confirmation so far. Movistar++, for whom Beriain had been working, has identified this third victim as Rory Young, president of Chengeta Wildlife, an organization dedicated to combating poaching in Africa. The two journalists were preparing a documentary, precisely, on the fight against poaching in Burkina Faso.

After the Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, advanced that two bodies had been found that in all probability corresponded to those of the missing journalists, the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, has confirmed their identity and their death in a tweet. "The worst news is confirmed", said Sánchez, who sent "all affection" to the victims' families and friends and made "an acknowledgement to those who, like them, do daily courageous and essential journalism from conflict zones". Beriain, born in the Navarrese town of Artajona, was 44 years old, and Fraile, who accompanied him as a cameraman, was originally from Barakaldo (Vizcaya) and was 47. The Spanish embassy in Mali has been in contact with the journalists' families.

Conflict zone

The events took place at around 9 a.m. on Monday morning in the province of Kompienga, in the south-east of the African country. The two journalists and the Irish activist were accompanying an anti-poaching unit made up of members of the army, police and forestry officers. The convoy, made up of about forty people travelling in two pickup vans and about twenty motorbikes, had left the town of Natiaboani in the direction of Pama, the provincial capital. At kilometre 60 they stopped and, while the journalists were preparing a drone to record aerial images of the area (close to the Arli natural park), the attack began.

A group of armed men arrived in the area in pick-up trucks and on motorbikes, and the convoy dispersed. Some managed to flee (although at least three were wounded), but four were held by the assailants: apart from the two Spanish nationals and the Irishman, a member of the Burkina Faso security forces is still missing, according to local authorities. The government of the African country has attributed the attack to "terrorists", and in an audio message still pending verification, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, linked to Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for it.

Northern and eastern Burkina Faso have seen an increase in jihadist violence in recent years due to the presence of Ansarul Islam, Al-Qaeda's branch in the Sahel, and another group called the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara. Since the first attacks in 2015 and until now there have been more than five thousand fatalities and one million internally displaced people. In May 2019 two French tourists were kidnapped with their driver, who was killed, in Pendjari National Park, and were rescued by French special forces in neighboring Benin, in an operation in which two soldiers were killed. Burkina Faso's military said Monday that four soldiers and two "terrorists" were killed in anti-jihadist operations last week. Since February, the government of Christophe Dabiré has been considering opening a process of dialogue with the armed groups. "It's a dangerous area, a regular haunt of terrorist groups and bandits", Gonzalez Laya said.

Experienced journalists

David Beriain had experience as a journalist in conflict zones, having worked in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He directed documentaries such as Diez días con las FARC (translated as Ten Days with the FARC, with which he won the José Manuel Porquet digital journalism award) and the documentary series Clandestino on DMAX, which gave an inside look at the workings of the Sinaloa Cartel. As a producer he signed, among others, the docuseries El Palmar de Troya for Movistar+. He was also one of the founders of the production company 93 Metros, which specialis es in documentaries.

In Clandestino Beriain was accompanied, from behind the camera, by Fraile, who worked for more than twenty years in the autonomous television of Castilla y León and who was also a regular in war zones, such as Afghanistan and Syria. In this country he suffered injuries from the explosion of a grenade in Aleppo in 2012.