OUAGADOUGOU (AFP/REUTERS) - At least 20 people have been killed and another 15 wounded in an ongoing assault on a hotel in the capital of Burkina Faso that started on Friday (Jan 15) night, a hospital chief said.
Security forces in Burkina Faso launched an assault on Saturday (Jan 16) to recapture the hotel, a Reuters witness said. Two groups of security forces entered the main lobby of the Splendid Hotel and there was no gunfire as they went in. Part of the lobby was on fire, the witness said.
“For the dead, we do not have a precise figure, but there are at least 20 dead,” said Dr Robert Sangare, the head of Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital. “We have had at least 15 wounded with bullet wounds and others who suffered injuries during the panic to escape.”
Sixty-three hostages, including 33 wounded, were evacuated in the early hours of Saturday from the hotel, Communication Minister Remis Dandjinou told AFP, adding that among those rescued was Labour Minister Clement Sawadogo.
The security operations ended with 126 hostages freed, the West African nation’s security minister said on Saturday. “Three jihadists were killed. They were an Arab and two black Africans,” Mr Simon Compaore told Reuters, adding that operations were continuing at the nearby Yibi Hotel.
Members of Burkina Faso’s fire brigade found about 10 bodies on the terrace of a restaurant opposite the Splendid Hotel, the interior minister said on Saturday. Security forces are working with their French counterparts to retake the hotel, the country’s minister of communications said.
A United States. 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. The government has not ruled out calling for help from French special forces stationed in the country, the country’s foreign minister Alpha Barry said in a telephone interview.
The Islamist fighters have rigged with explosives the upper floors of the hotel, slowing the progress of US and French-assisted Burkinabe security forces seeking to retake it, a senior gendarme officer said. “What’s making our job more difficult is that they’ve rigged the access to the upper floors,” the Burkinabe officer, who asked not to be named, said on Saturday.
Gunshots and explosions were heard coming from one of Ouagadougou's main hotels and a nearby restaurant on Friday night, with a witness saying several people had been killed in what the French embassy called a terrorist attack.
Around 10 vehicles were on fire in the street where the four-star Splendid hotel and the Cappuccino restaurant opposite - both popular with United Nations staff and westerners - are located in a busy, central area of Burkina Faso’s capital not far from the international airport.
The attack comes less than two months after a jihadist hostage siege at the luxury Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital Bamako in November, in which 20 people died including 14 foreigners.
A Cappuccino staff member, reached by telephone by AFP, said several people had been killed at the restaurant, without being able to give an exact toll.
Witnesses said attackers were still holed up in the 147-room hotel, while sporadic exchanges of fire could be heard between the assailants and security forces.
Three men clad in turbans at one point fired 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".
An Al-Qaeda affiliate in Africa has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, according to a US-based extremist monitoring group.
The “mujahideen brothers” of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) “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 SITE Intelligence Group quoted an Arabic-language AQIM message as saying.
The Burkinabe army meanwhile revealed that an armed group had carried out an attack earlier in the day near the border with Mali, killing two people.
"In the afternoon around 2.00pm (1400 GMT), around 20 heavily-armed unidentified individuals carried out an attack against gendarmes in the village of Tin Abao," the army said in a statement, adding that an officer and a civilian had been killed and two more gendarmes wounded.
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.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in October 2014, when Compaore sought to extend his rule, forcing him to step down after ruling the poor, landlocked country with an iron fist for 27 years.
Kabore, 58, becomes only the third civilian president of the nine who have held power since the country’s independence from France in 1960.