Al Qaeda branch claims Burkina Faso hotel attack
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Security forces ended a siege by al Qaeda fighters at a hotel in Burkina Faso's capital Saturday, killing four attackers and freeing 126 hostages. President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré said at least 23 people had been killed in the attack.
French-assisted Burkinabe forces led an assault to reclaim the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou in the early hours of Saturday. Security forces launched a second raid to secure the nearby Hotel Yibi, killing a fourth attacker.
Burkina Faso’s Interior Minister Simon Compaoré said the dead included victims from 18 different nationalities but did not give further details.
No one has said publicly how many people were in the 147-room Splendid Hotel during the attack. Witnesses said a fifth attacker had been seen running from the scene and into a nearby bar.
President Kaboré visited the hotel later Saturday, describing the attack as “vile”.
French President François Hollande also condemned the "odious and cowardly attack" and expressed his full support for Burkina Faso’s president.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has said it carried out the attack in the West African nation, according to the SITE jihadist monitoring group.
'Hotel rigged with explosives'
According to a Burkinabe security officer, who asked not to be named, the militants had rigged the hotel with explosives, slowing the progress of the forces seeking to retake it.
“What’s making our job more difficult is that they’ve rigged the access to the upper floors,” he said.
An AFP journalist who witnessed the beginning of the attack reported seeing three men with turbans firing weapons outside the Splendid Hotel, located in a busy, central area of the Burkina Faso capital regularly frequented by United Nations staff and Westerners.
“There are many hostages from many nationalities in the hotel,” Foreign Minister Alpha Barry told FRANCE 24 on Friday.
Cars in front of the hotel had been set on fire by the attackers, who stormed the bustling downtown area on Friday evening at around 7pm. A Reuters witness also saw gunmen emerge from the hotel and fire into the air to keep crowds away.
The Cappuccino café opposite the hotel, another spot popular with Westerners, had also been targeted. Members of Burkina Faso’s fire brigade found about 10 bodies on the terrace of the restaurant, Compaoré said on Saturday.
A US 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.
'Disbelievers, white people' targeted
This is the first time Islamist militants have carried out an assault in the capital of Burkina Faso. AQIM claimed the attack in a message on their website, saying the hotel was targeted because it was "frequented by staff of the nations of global disbelief".
Fighters "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 message said. Jihadists who spoke by phone later "asserted the fall of many dead crusaders," according to the SITE group.
Robert Sangare, director of Ouagadougou’s university hospital centre, told Reuters that they were treating at least 15 people "with bullet wounds and people who were injured because of falls".
Sangare said one European woman being treated at the hospital told him the attackers appeared to target white people.
The attack follows a deadly raid on a luxury hotel in Mali last November in which two attackers killed 20 people including citizens of Russia, China and the United States. The attackers were from the Sahara-based al Mourabitoun group of Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was an AQIM leader before breaking off in 2012 to form his own group while maintaining ties to al Qaeda's leadership.
Burkina Faso has endured political turmoil since October 2014 when longtime President Blaise Compaoré was overthrown during mass protests. Military troops launched a failed coup again in September 2015.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
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