OUAGADOUGOU • Armed assailants attacked several targets in Burkina Faso's capital yesterday, including the army headquarters and the French embassy, in a coordinated assault that France's ambassador to the West African region called a terrorist attack.
It was the third major attack in Ouagadougou in just over two years. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but previous attacks were conducted by allies of Al-Qaeda in reprisal for Burkina Faso's participation in a regional fight against Islamist militants.
A Burkina Faso government statement said four gunmen were "neutralised" at the French embassy, adding that operations were continuing and there was no immediate information on civilian casualties.
The defence minister said three assailants were killed at the army headquarters.
Witnesses said masked gunmen attacked the downtown army headquarters at about 10am. "I saw people with sacks on their backs attack the guard. Then I heard the explosion. I saw soldiers flee the army headquarters building running," witness Kader Sanou told Reuters.
The explosion rocked the compound, setting the building on fire and sending up a thick column of black smoke.
Panicked residents fled the city centre on foot or motorbikes as dozens of Burkina Faso special forces and armoured vehicles took up positions in the area.
"Burkinabe security forces are mobilised against the attackers with the support of security forces at our embassy," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in a statement.
The French targets attacked, including the cultural centre, are symbolic given that French President Emmanuel Macron chose to outline his Africa strategy, including the fight against militants, in November in Ouagadougou.
France's ambassador to Burkina Faso Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes confirmed to Reuters that the embassy compound, around 2km from the army headquarters, also came under attack but gave no further details.
France's embassy and cultural institute in Ouagadougou are no longer in danger, an aide to Mr le Drian said.
Police took up position near the offices of the prime minister where gunfire was also reported.
Mr Macron was being kept up to date with events in Ouagadougou, the Elysee Palace said in a statement.
A Reuters reporter said gunfire had largely ceased by noon.
Islamist militants have stepped up attacks in major cities in West Africa in the last few years, including deadly assaults in Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Niger.
Suspected militants killed at least 18 people last August during a raid on a restaurant in Ouagadougou, and militants have targeted Burkinabe security forces along its remote northern border region with Mali.