Seven teenagers have been killed in a blast at Margba, a village in Tone Prefecture, in Savanna, the northernmost region of Togo, which has been under a state of emergency since last June.
“The decision to take action was taken after the two terrorist attacks perpetrated in this northern part of the country in the space of six months against the Operation Koundjoare,” the Togolese army said on Sunday. The blast caused the death of seven children and caused injuries to two others but did not give other details.
General Maganawe said in a statement the army had previously received “intelligence” indicating a threat of “infiltration by armed gangs wanting to conduct terrorist attacks” against local communities.
“It was during those operations that an aircraft patrolling at night unfortunately targeted a group of people it had mistakenly identified as jihadists on the move,” Maganawe said.
“The Togolese armed forces express their profound regret in the face of this tragedy and renew their sincere condolences to the families of those affected, and once more, wishes a prompt recovery to those injured.”
There were concerns among the local population that the blast was the work of armed groups which are gradually snaking into the country from neighbouring Burkina Faso, which has become the epicentre of conflict in the Sahel.
The victims, instead, were teenagers on their way home from celebrating Eid-al-Adha, Islam’s festival of sacrifice, known in the Wolof language as Tabaski. The victims were between the ages of 14 and 18.
Since June 13, the Savannah region has been under state of emergency following a decree signed by President Faure Gnassingbe following a deadly attack against the Togolese army.
Togo, Benin, Ghana, and Ivory Coast have borders with Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, where jihadist campaigns by Islamic State or al-Qaeda affiliates have claimed thousands of lives and driven more than two million people from their homes.
In May, eight soldiers were killed, and 13 others wounded at a security outpost in the locality of Kpendjal in the Savanna region by unknown gunmen. Last November, security forces repelled a similar attack by unidentified armed men that the government believed came from Burkina Faso.
The reaction from civil society is torn. Louis Kamako, the secretary-general of Journaliste en Mission pour le Développement (JMD), a civil society organisation, welcomed the army’s apologies and called on authorities to attend to families of the victims.
While, Togolese human rights activist, Farida Nabourema was scathing in her rebuke of the government as she called the president a dictator and questioned the methods of the military in identifying actual terrorists.