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Bodies of film crew slain in Burkina Faso land in Spain

by SAM MEDNICK AND ARITZ PARRA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | May 1, 2021 at 4:05 a.m.
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive Friday from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport. (AP/Andrea Comas)

MADRID -- The bodies of two Spanish journalists and an Irish wildlife activist killed by jihadists in Burkina Faso this week while they were filming a documentary on poaching were flown home Friday as several European countries vowed to keep fighting extremism in Africa's Sahel region.

David Beriain, 44, and Roberto Fraile, 47, journalists with long experience in conflict zones, had joined Irish conservationist Rory Young on a poaching patrol led by a military wildlife force in eastern Burkina Faso when their convoy was ambushed by jihadists Monday.

The three Europeans and one Burkinabe soldier were killed, according to Spanish authorities. The government of Burkina Faso said six other people were wounded, and one is still missing.

The bodies of the Europeans were flown overnight from the capital of the African nation, Ouagadougou, on an Airbus provided by the Spanish military. A guard of honor carried their coffins at a military airport near Madrid, where relatives of the journalists awaited with Spanish officials and the Irish ambassador to Spain.

"It's a sad day," Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said after a brief ceremony on the tarmac. "David and Roberto went to lengths to give voice to those who don't have them, to make visible hard realities surrounding us and to strengthen democracy."

The minister announced that the two journalists would be awarded Spain's Order of Civil Merit, which recognizes extraordinary contributions by individuals.

The crew was making a documentary on how Burkina Faso's authorities are tackling poaching, also focusing on the people living in the park. Young, director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation, was leading the patrol in Arly National Park, the group said on Facebook.

Two soldiers wounded in the attack said they tried to protect the foreigners during fighting that lasted three hours, but were outnumbered by the jihadists. One foreign worker of the wildlife foundation did survive, the soldiers told The Associated Press, insisting on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Burkina Faso has been overrun by attacks linked to Islamic extremists that have killed thousands of people and displaced more than 1 million.

Violence has surged this week in hard-hit eastern and northern parts of the country. The same day the poaching patrol was ambushed, 18 people were killed by gunmen in the Sahel region. In a statement this week, the government said "terrorists have carried out acts of intimidation, looting and assassinations" on civilians.

The governments of Spain, France, Germany and Italy said in a statement that they were committed to supporting the violence-struck region with military training and supplies, but also with humanitarian aid to provide much-needed stability.

"The area is one of enormous turbulence, with great geostrategic risks for our country," said Gonzalez Laya of Spain.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said "the fight against terrorism is not going to stop, we want to be relentless." She also said Spanish intelligence officials were on the ground supporting the Burkinabe government's investigation into the killings.

Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Coffins carrying the bodies of Spanish reporters David Beriain, Roberto Fraile and the director of the Chengeta Wildlife Foundation Rory Young, arrive from Burkina Faso at the Madrid military airport on Friday, April 30, 2021. Two Spanish journalists and the Irish director of a wildlife foundation were killed Monday in an ambush in eastern Burkina Faso. The two journalists were working with the wildlife campaigner on a documentary about poachers in a national park bordering Benin when they were attacked by gunmen. AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
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