OUAGADOUGOU: Security forces in Burkina Faso ended a siege at hotel and a restaurant that were stormed by Al Qaeda linked gunmen, killing three jihadists and freeing 126 people, but another assault was ongoing at second hotel nearby.
A security source said at least 22 people were killed in the jihadists’ assaults on the Burkinabe capital’s four-star Splendid hotel and the nearby Capuccino restaurant, which are popular with UN staff and foreigners.
Thirty-three of the 126 people freed from the Splendid hotel by Burkinabe troops backed by French special forces were wounded.
“The attacks on the Splendid Hotel and the Cappuccino are over. But an assault is ongoing at the Hotel Ybi” next to the Cappuccino, Interior Minister Simon Compaore told AFP.
A total of “126 people, including at least 33 wounded, have been freed. Three jihadists – an Arab and two black Africans – have been killed,” he added.
Twenty people have been confirmed dead, but the toll could rise further as Compaore told AFP earlier in the night that firefighters had seen 10 bodies on the terrace of the restaurant.
“We don’t yet have a total tally of the dead. The Burkinabe forces are still combing the hotel,” he said.
Communication minister Remis Dandjinou told AFP the assault was carried out by Burkinabe troops with the support of French special forces. He also said that among those who escaped unharmed was Labour Minister Clement Sawadogo.
Early Saturday, a fire raged at the main entrance of the 147-room hotel in Ouagodougou and screams could be heard from inside, while on the street outside about 10 vehicles were set alight.
“It was horrible, people were sleeping and there was blood everywhere. They were firing at people at close range,” Yannick Sawadogo, one of those who escaped, told AFP.
“We heard them speaking and they were walking around people and firing at people who were not dead. And when they came out they started a fire.”
The attack comes less than two months after a jihadist hostage siege at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in the Malian capital Bamako left 20 people dead, including 14 foreigners – an attack claimed by the same Al-Qaeda affiliate behind the unfolding Ouagadougou assault.
The head of the city’s main hospital confirmed prior to the start of the counter-assault at least 20 people had been killed.
He quoted one of the wounded as saying there were “more white people than black” among the dead.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack saying it was “revenge against France and the disbelieving West“, according to a statement carried by US-based monitoring group SITE.
The attackers were members of the Al-Murabitoun group based in Mali and run by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, SITE said.
An AFP reporter at one point saw three men clad in turbans firing at the scene on Avenue Kwame Nkrumah, one of Ouagadougou’s main thoroughfares.
A witness also reported seeing four assailants who were of Arab or white appearance and “wearing turbans.”
The French embassy said on its website earlier that a “terrorist attack” was underway and urged people to avoid the area. French President Francois Hollande in a statement condemned the “odious and cowardly attack.”
With Ouagadougou airport closed because of the attack, and an Air France flight from Paris to Ouagadougou was diverted to neighbouring Niger.
A US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington could provide drone-based surveillance.
The Burkinabe army, meanwhile, said a heavily-armed group of about 20 people had also carried out an attack on Friday near the border with Mali, killing two people – a police officer and a civilian – and leaving two others wounded.
Several attacks have taken place in Burkina Faso in recent months, but no such assaults had hit the capital.
In April the Romanian security chief of a mine in northern Tambao was kidnapped in a move also claimed by Belmokhtar’s Al-Murabitoun group.
Burkina Faso is part of the G5 Sahel grouping that counts the fight against terrorism as part of its remit.
It has also offered support to France’s Barkhane counter-terror mission, spanning five countries in Africa’s restive Sahel region, and French special forces are stationed in Ouagadougou’s suburbs.
Last month, Burkina Faso swore in Roch Marc Christian Kabore as president, completing the troubled West African state’s transition after the overthrow of its longtime ruler Blaise Compaore in 2014 and a failed coup attempt in September. --AFP