President of Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kaboré declared a two-day mourning period after suspected militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State killed at least 41 in the country's desert north this week.
A column of civilian fighters from the Homeland Defence Volunteers (VDP), a group the government funds and trains to contain Islamist insurgents, was ambushed on Thursday as it swept a remote area in the northern Loroum province, authorities said on Saturday.
It was one of the heaviest single-day losses the civilian militia has experienced to date and occurred one month after an attack on a gendarmerie post killed 53 people -- the worst strike on Burkinabe security forces in years.
"In this painful circumstance and as a tribute to the valiant VDP and civilians who fell in defence of the homeland, the President of Burkina Faso decrees a national mourning period of forty-eight hours, starting Sunday," government spokesman Alkassoum Maïga said in a statement.
Ladji Yoro, considered to be one of the VDP leaders, is among the victims, the statement said.
"The identification of the victims is still ongoing", Maïga indicated in the statement which “strongly condemned this barbarian act”.
Authorities have faced repeated protests in recent months over their perceived failure to curb a four-year Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands across Africa's Sahel Region and forced more than a million people to flee their homes.
Islamic militants have inflicted heavy casualties on the region's armies, killing soldiers in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali almost every week in scattered attacks.