Army HQ, French embassy attacked in Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou
Islamic extremists opened fire on the French Embassy and army headquarters in separate attacks in Burkina Faso's capital Friday, killing at least seven soldiers, while eight of the militants were slain, a government official said.
Many others were wounded among the security forces, and it was feared the death toll could rise, said the official, Communications Minister Remy Danjuinou. Five emergency centers were set up in Ouagadougou to treat the high number of casualties in the former French colony.
It was not clear if more militants were involved in the violence, which was called a terrorist attack by Jean Bosco Kienou, director general of Burkina Faso's police, and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. There was no claim of responsibility.
Gunfire and explosions resounded for hours but subsided by midday. Workers fled offices near the site of the violence, and helicopters were seen above the embassy.
Barricades set up
Defense and security forces responded to the attacks, police said, and barricades were set up.
Witnesses at the state television offices that face the embassy told The Associated Press that five attackers arrived in a pickup truck and started shooting after shouting, "Allahu Akhbar." They then set fire to the truck and continued shooting, the witnesses added.
The neighborhood also houses other embassies, the prime minister's office and UN offices.
Across central Ouagadougou to the west, heavy smoke rose from the army joint chief of staff's office, where witnesses reported loud explosions.
The assailants there also arrived in a pickup and starting shooting at soldiers, said Moussa Korbeogo, a trader at a nearby market.
"Some of the soldiers ran into a nearby bank to seek shelter. Several were killed outside and inside the premises," Korbeogo said.
Five of the extremists were killed at the embassy and at least three were killed near the army headquarters, according to Danjuinou, the communications minister.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement that Burkina Faso's security forces had been mobilised with the support of the French to "reduce the threat."
A crisis center was set up at the ministry in Paris to monitor the situation, he said, adding that the safety of French citizens in Ouagadougou "is my priority."
The ministry's website recommended that people stay off the streets and remain in a safe place.
One of the poorest countries in the world
Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It shares a northern border with Mali, which has long battled Islamic extremists.
Ouagadougou has been attacked by Islamic extremists targeting foreigners at least twice in the past few years.
In August, extremists opened fire as patrons dined at a restaurant, killing at least 18 people. In January 2016, Islamic extremists attacked another cafe popular with foreigners, killing 30 people.
Security forces struggled to contain the attacks.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the 2016 killings along with the jihadist group known as Al Mourabitoun. But the terror threat in Burkina Faso is increasingly homegrown, experts say.
The northern border region near Mali is the home of a local preacher, Ibrahim Malam Dicko, who has claimed responsibility for recent deadly attacks on troops and civilians. His association, Ansarul Islam, is considered a terrorist group by Burkina Faso's government.
Among his objectives has been ending the use of French, the former colonizer's language, in regional schools. Forces backed by the French military have failed to capture Dicko.
Longtime President Blaise Compaore was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014, and a coup was mounted the following year but ultimately failed. Some critics say the military has suffered during the years of political upheaval.
During the 2016 assault, security forces waited for hours before trying to intervene.
Threats by Islamic extremists also moved into new parts of Burkina Faso in February with an attack by 10 people in an eastern town that killed an officer and wounded two others.
Increased attacks at the border with Mali have forced thousands to flee in the past year. An Australian doctor who had spent decades treating civilians was also abducted along this border and remains missing.
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