At least 18 dead, including 8 expats, in 'terrorist' attack on Burkina Faso restaurant

Medical agents transport a dead body at the Aziz Istanbul restaurant after an overnight raid in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on Aug14, 2017
Medical agents transport a dead body at the Aziz Istanbul restaurant after an overnight raid in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on Aug14, 2017PHOTO: REUTERS

OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO (AFP) - More than 18 people, including at least eight foreigners were shot dead in a Turkish restaurant in Burkina Faso, officials said Monday (Aug 14), in the latest attack in West Africa to target a spot popular with expatriates.

There has been no claim of responsibility for Sunday night's attack at the Aziz Istanbul restaurant, which was often packed with foreign nationals who went there to watch football.

Two attackers were killed by security forces in a counter-assault that left the streets echoing with gunfire until morning. Five members of the security forces were among 22 people wounded, prosecutor Maiza Sereme said.

Foreign Minister Alpha Barry said the "terrorist" attack in the capital Ouagadougou killed seven locals and at least eight foreigners including a Frenchman, a Canadian woman, two Kuwaiti women and male victims from Senegal, Niger, Lebanon and Turkey.

Three others have yet to be identified, Sereme said.

Separately, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said two Canadians were among the casualties.

"They started shooting on the terrace. We climbed up the stairs and lay on the ground. The attackers came and pointed their guns at us," said one survivor, interviewed in hospital on national television. "I didn't understand their language, it might have been Arabic."

The restaurant is just 200 metres from a hotel and cafe targeted in an assault in January 2016 that left 30 people dead and 71 wounded, many of them foreigners. That attack was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Sereme said the dead attackers were "very young".

"They arrived at the scene of the crime on a motorbike," she told a press conference. "Each of the terrorists was armed with an AK47. We found many cartridge clips at the scene, some of them empty and some of them still full."

Forty people were freed in the counter-assault by security forces, she said.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore condemned the shooting as "a despicable attack that has Ouagadougou in mourning".

The attack is the latest in the region targeting spots popular with foreigners and locals alike.

Last year's assault on the Splendid hotel and Cappuccino restaurant, down the road from the Aziz Istanbul, came after extremists claimed an attack on a hotel in the capital of neighbouring Mali that killed 20 people.

And in March last year 19 people were killed when gunmen stormed the Ivory Coast beach resort of Grand-Bassam, an attack also claimed by AQIM.

In Burkina Faso, a dozen soldiers were killed in December in an assault on a base in the north of the country.

An Australian and a Romanian, abducted in Burkina Faso in 2015, are still being held hostage by Qaeda-affiliated Islamists.

Sean Smith, senior Africa analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said the restaurant attack "illustrates that the threat of terrorism now looms over most of the Sahel region".

"While most attacks in Burkina Faso remain confined to the remote northern regions that border Mali, this incident reiterates that Islamists also have the ability to strike at will in the capital."

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Kabore, his office said, condemning the "terrorist attack" in the former French colony and stressing the "urgent need" to speed up the launch of a five-country anti-extremist force in the Sahel.

France has its own Barkhane anti-extremist operation in the region and has been pushing efforts to set up the 5,000-member force, manned by Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, by October.

African Union chief Alpha Conde said the attack "shows the importance of bringing the force into operation" and called on the European Union to find the estimated 400 million euros ($642 million) of extra funding needed.

"We must accelerate the G5 launch so that Africans are on the frontline in defending the security of their citizens and that of expatriates," he told France 24 television.