Security forces in Burkina Faso battled suspected Islamist fighters outside the Splendid Hotel in the capital’s business district
At least 20 people have died after masked jihadi gunmen attacked a four-star business hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital tonight, amid an ongoing hostage situation.
Two car bombs exploded outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou’s business district before several gunmen stormed the hotel.
Security forces arrived as the men fired in the air to disperse the gathering crowd and soon engaged in a fierce gunfight with the suspected jihadis as cars burned around them.
Witnesses said the attackers claimed to be from ISIS, but a local Al Qaeda affiliated group called AQIM has reportedly claimed the attack on the capital in West Africa, according to SITE Intelligence Group.
In a message posted in Arabic on the militants’ ‘Muslim Africa’ Telegram account, it said fighters had ‘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.’
A hospital chief said at least 20 people have been killed and another 15 wounded in the ongoing assault.
‘For the dead, we do not have a precise figure, but there are at least 20 dead,’ said 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.’
A police officer was shot trying to reach the Splendid hotel opposite where the attackers remain, according to officers.
A senior official with the national gendarmes said suspected Islamist fighters had taken an unknown number of hostages.
‘It is continuing at this time. We are trying to know how many attackers they are to better coordinate our actions. Hostages have been taken. The operation could take several hours,’ the officer said asking not to be named.
A journalist on the scene told CNN that French and US soldiers arived at the hotel.
Eyewitnesses said two car bombs exploded at approximately 7.30pm local time before up to six masked men stormed the hotel.
The four-star hotel is reportedly used by UN agency staff and is near a cafe called Cappucino, said to be popular with expats, although U.N. spokesman in Ouagadougou, Emile Kabore, told CNN he did not believe any U.N. staffers are currently staying at the hotel.
A witness who gave only his first name, Gilbert, said that when security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.
‘But we know that the gunmen won’t get out of the hotel alive,’ he said. ‘Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong.’
The French Embassy in Burkina Faso released a statement on its website calling incident a ‘terrorist attack and urged its citizens to return home and to avoide the hotel, the Cafe Capuccino and Kwame N’Krumah Avenue.
The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou tweeted: ‘We are closely following the situation downtown.’
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, though jihadists have attacked hotels before in neighboring Mali, including a devastating attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in November that left 20 people dead.
The attack would be the first in Burkina’s capital by Islamists in a country that is diverse in religious terms and has a population that is around 60 percent Muslim, according to government figures.
It would present a significant challenge to President Roch Marc Kabore, who was elected in Nov. 2015 as Burkina Faso’s first new leader in decades.
The French embassy in December warned its citizens against traveling to a national park in eastern Burkina Faso after reports that Malian jihadists were threatening to kidnap foreigners.
An Islamist militant group Al-Mourabitoun said in May, 2015, it was holding a Romanian man kidnapped from a mine in northern Burkina Faso the previous month.
Around 50 unidentified gunmen attacked a Burkina Faso gendarmerie brigade near the country’s western border with Mali in Oct. 2015, killing three in an attack the then government blamed on the leaders of a failed coup one month before.
Burkina Faso has endured bouts of political turmoil since October 2014 when veteran President Blaise Compaore was overthrown in a popular protest, but has been largely spared violence by Islamist militants who have staged attacks in neighboring Mali.
Two militants killed 20 people from nations including Russia, China and the United States at a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital on Nov. 20, 2015, before being killed by the security forces.
Three Islamist groups including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed that attack, the most prominent by militants who are based in the north of the country and have staged a series of attacks over the last year.