OUAGADOUGOU – People around Pama, a West African town on the edge of vast forested conservation areas, had long been forbidden by their government to dig for gold in the reserves, to protect antelope, buffalo and elephants. In mid-2018, men wearing turbans changed the rules.
Riding in with assault rifles on motorbikes and in 4X4 trucks, they sent government troops and rangers fleeing from the area in eastern Burkina Faso bordering the Sahel, a belt of scrubland south of the Sahara Desert. The armed men said residents could mine in the protected areas, but there would be conditions. Sometimes they demanded a cut of the gold. At other times they bought and traded it.
The men “told us not to worry. They told us to pray,” said one man who gave his name as Trahore and said he had worked for several months at a mine called Kabonga, a short drive northwest of Pama. Like other miners who spoke to Reuters, he asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. It was not safe for reporters to visit the region, but five other miners who had been to Kabonga corroborated his account.
“We called them ‘our masters,’” Trahore said. The pits around Pama are no isolated case. Groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, having lost ground in the Middle East, are expanding in Africa and exploiting gold mines across the region, data on attacks and interviews with two dozen miners and residents, and government and security officials, show.
Besides attacking industrial operations, two of the world’s most feared extremist forces are tapping the $2 billion informal gold trade in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – a flow that is already largely out of state control.
For the rest of this article: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/gold-africa-islamists/