Terrorism At least 20 dead in ongoing Islamist attack on Burkina Faso hotel

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the ongoing attack.

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At least 20 people are reported to have been killed and dozens more taken hostage after Islamist gunmen stormed a hotel in the Burkina Faso capital on Friday. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the ongoing attack.

Thirty-three hostages were evacuated from the Splendid Hotel after security forces in the early hours of Saturday began an assault to reclaim the 147-room building, part of which was on fire.

“Liberation of Minister (of Public Service, Labour and Social Security) Clement Sawadogo and around 30 hostages,” Minister of Communications Remis Dandjinou said on Twitter, adding that those freed were taken to hospital.

“The operation continues,” he added.

In the early morning hours, French forces arrived in Ouagadougou from neighboring Mali to aid the effort. Burkinabé soldiers had already stormed the building, at one point setting part of the it ablaze with their explosives.

An AFP journalist who witnessed the beginning of the attack reported seeing three men with turbans firing weapons outside the Splendid Hotel, located in a busy, central area of the Burkina Faso capital regularly frequented by United Nations staff and westerners.

“There are many hostages from many nationalities in the hotel,” Foreign Minister Alpha Barry told FRANCE 24 on Friday.

Cars in front of the hotel had been set on fire by the attackers, who stormed the bustling downtown area on Friday evening at around 7pm. A Reuters witness also saw gunmen emerge from the hotel and fire into the air to keep crowds away.

The Cappuccino café-restaurant opposite the hotel, another spot popular with westerners, had also been targeted. Members of Burkina Faso’s fire brigade found about 10 bodies on the terrace of the restaurant, the interior minister said on Saturday.

A US defence official said that France had requested US intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance support in the city and at least one US military member in Burkina Faso was giving “advice and assistance” to French forces at the hotel.

'Disbelievers, white people' targeted

This is the first time Islamist militants have carried out an assault in the capital of Burkina Faso. AQIMclaimed the attack in a message on their website, saying the hotel was targeted because it was "frequented by staff of the nations of global disbelief".

Fighters "broke into a restaurant of one of the biggest hotels in the capital of Burkina Faso, and are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion," the message said. Fighters who spoke by phone later "asserted the fall of many dead crusaders," AQIM said, according to SITE.

Robert Sangare, director of Ouagadougou’s university hospital centre, told Reuters that they were treating at least 15 people "with bullet wounds and people who were injured because of falls".

Sangare said one European woman being treated at the hospital told him the attackers appeared to target white people.

The hotel is sometimes used by French troops with Operation Barkhané, a force based in Chad and set up to combat Islamist militants across West Africa’s vast, arid Sahel region.

The attack follows a deadly raid on a luxury hotel in Mali last November in which two attackers killed 20 people including citizens of Russia, China and the United States. There have been attacks by militants in other countries in West Africa.

Burkina Faso has endured political turmoil since October 2014 when longtime President Blaise Compaoré was overthrown during mass protests and elite troops launched a one-week coup in September 2015.

But the landlocked country has been largely spared violence by Islamist militants, who have staged attacks in Mali, a country with which it shares a 600-km (375-mile) border.

 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS, AP)

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