OUAGADOUGOU • At least 23 people from 18 countries were killed in an attack by militant gunmen at a luxury hotel and a restaurant in the capital of Burkina Faso, before security forces ended the siege yesterday and killed four assailants.
A total of 126 people were freed, including 33 wounded people, from the four-star Splendid hotel - popular with Westerners and United Nations staff - after security forces retook the 147-room facility and the Cappuccino restaurant nearby in the early hours of yesterday, Interior Minister Simon Compaore told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Sporadic gunfire had continued throughout the morning, with the final assailant killed in a nearby hotel, the Yibi Hotel, officials said.
The assault by the Al-Qaeda- linked gunmen, which began late last Friday, had been completely crushed by midday yesterday, a security source said, but search operations were continuing in the area.
Four militants, including two women, were killed in the counter- attack, the security source said.
France's Ambassador to Burkina Faso Gilles Thibault yesterday gave a higher toll, saying 27 people had been killed. In a Twitter post, he said 150 people from 18 countries had been rescued from the site of the attack during an operation that received support from French and United States forces.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was "revenge against France and the disbelieving West", said a statement carried by US-based monitoring group Site.
The attackers were members of the Al-Murabitoun group based in Mali and run by militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Site said.
The Ouagadougou assault, claimed by AQIM, signalled an expansion of operations for Islamist militants who are forging new alliances and stepping up their activities, echoing the growth of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East.
The assault followed a similar raid last November on a luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, which killed 20 people.
"The situation we're experiencing since yesterday in Burkina Faso is unprecedented," said President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, when he visited the scene of the attack.
"These are vile, cowardly acts, and the victims are innocent people."
Communication Minister Remis Dandjinou told AFP that among those who escaped unharmed was Labour Minister Clement Sawadogo.
The Islamist assault began at 8.30pm local time last Friday, when the area is typically packed with crowds. The attackers torched cars and fired in the air to drive people back into the building, before entering the hotel and taking hostages.
"It was horrible, people were sleeping and there was blood everywhere. They were firing at people at close range," Mr Yannick Sawadogo, one of those who escaped, told AFP. "We heard them speaking and they were walking around and firing at people who were not dead. And when they came out, they started a fire."
A doctor who treated some of those hurt in the initial attack said the victims had told him the attackers appeared to target Westerners.
Meanwhile, an Australian doctor and his wife were kidnapped overnight in the country's north near the border with Mali, the security ministry said. The kidnapping occurred in the Baraboule area, and it was unclear whether it was linked to the hotel attack.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE