Soldiers evacuate an injured man from the Splendid Hotel
At least 22 people have been killed after suspected Islamist gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital of Burkina Faso.
126 hostages have been rescued from the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, according to the country’s interior minister.
Three attackers have also reportedly been killed in the incident. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility.
Security forces began an assault to reclaim the hotel in the early hours of the morning and entered its lobby, part of which was on fire, according to a Reuters witness, who later saw them enter the hotels upper floors amid bursts of gunfire.
The upper floors of the hotel were reportedly rigged with explosives, slowing their progress.
The hotel is frequented by westerners, which may have made it a target for the militants.
No one has said publicly how many people might have been in the hotel.
Yesterday evening’s attack was the first time militants have assaulted Ouagadougou and comes as a setback to efforts by African governments, France and the United States to prevent attacks that have destabilised the region.
It follows a raid on a luxury hotel in Mali last November in which two attackers killed 20 people, including citizens of Russia, China and the US.
There have been many attacks by militants in other countries in West Africa in recent years and the vast majority of those killed have been Africans.
Robert Sangare, director of Ouagadougou’s university hospital centre, said that among an initial 15 people brought to hospital some had bullet wounds while others had injuries from falls.
The doctor spoke to patients who had seen around 20 bodies, and one European woman being treated at the hospital said the attackers appeared to target westerners, Mr Sangare, who had spoken to the patients, said.
Burkina Faso’s fire brigade saw around 10 bodies on the terrace of the Cappuccino cafe opposite the hotel, the Interior Minister told Reuters.
It was not immediately clear how many people were in the hotel and restaurant when the attack began.
The hotel is sometimes used by French troops with Operation Barkhane, a force based in Chad and set up to combat Islamist militants across West Africa’s vast, arid Sahel region.
Burkinabe and French forces were working together to retake the hotel, Mr Dandjinou said.
A US defense official said France, the former colonial power, 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.
France normally has up to 200 special forces troops in the country.
Attackers torch vehicles before taking hotel
The assault began around 8.30pm when attackers torched cars and fired in the air to drive people back from the building.
There was an intense gun battle followed by relative quiet, partly because of security forces’ preparations for their bid to recapture the hotel.
“We had just opened and there were a few customers we started to serve when we heard gunshots. … There were three men shooting in the air,” a waiter at a restaurant across the street from the hotel said.
“Lots of people left their cars and motorcycles and ran. (Attackers) set fire to the vehicles. They also fired on the Cappuccino cafe across from the hotel before setting it on fire,” he said, adding that the attackers wore turbans.
Medical personnel moved the wounded away from the front of the hotel and one civilian was shot dead as the assault began around midnight, a Reuters witness said.
Burkina Faso, a majority Muslim country, has undergone a democratic transition since October 2014 when longtime President Blaise Compaore was overthrown during mass protests.
Elite troops launched a failed coup last September, but the landlocked west African state has been largely spared violence by Islamist militants, unlike its neighbour Mali.
The attack presents a stiff test for President Roch Marc Kabore, who was elected in November as Burkina Faso’s first new leader in decades.
Islamist groups operating in west Africa
Three Islamist groups, including AQIM and al Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for the Mali hotel 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.
Al Mourabitoun was also involved in the attack in Ouagadougou, according to the SITE intelligence group.
Islamist militants have staged attacks in a number of west African states bordering the Sahel in recent years.
Boko Haram has been blamed for assaults that have killed thousands in northeastern Nigeria during a six-year insurgency and in 2015 extended its attacks into neighbouring countries Chad, Niger and Cameroon.