Assaya Ngweba said militants transformed his once-peaceful village in Burkina Faso, near the border with Mali, into "a place of misfortune and death."
Now the 78-year-old is among half a million people who have fled the area this year as the extremists linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS increase attacks and expand their range in West Africa.
Concerted military actions by five regional countries, along with a French operation, have failed to stem the violence, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The border between Burkina Faso and Mali is the latest flashpoint in the vast, arid Sahel region that stretches across Africa south of the Sahara Desert. In the past week at least 19 civilians have been killed by suspected militants in Burkina Faso's north.
The extremists have even launched deadly assaults against the regional G5 Sahel counterterror force set up in 2017 with soldiers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The worst occurred earlier this month when al-Qaeda-linked militants attacked two army bases in central Mali, killing at least 38 soldiers and leaving more than a dozen missing.
While Burkina Faso's security forces are accused of being heavy-handed, Mali's government might not be taking the increase in attacks seriously enough, said Judd Devermont, Africa program director with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mali's government should better address the drivers of instability, he said, but instead of sending more development and education resources to affected areas it prefers to focus on the more heavily populated south.
According to AP, even in the capital, Bamako, protests have emerged as people accuse the government of not doing enough to stop extremist attacks.
Families of Malian soldiers protested this month as loved ones demand better equipment and training for the front lines.