Al-Qa'ida fighters storm hotel in Burkina Faso
Published 16/01/2016 | 02:30
Al-Qa'ida militants struck an upscale hotel and nearby café that are popular with Westerners in Burkina Faso's capital last night, taking an unknown number of hostages and forcing others to hide for their lives.
Three hours after the attack began, gunfire could still be heard as soldiers in an armoured vehicle finally approached the area where cars had been set ablaze.
The local al-Qa'ida affiliate known as AQIM claimed responsibility online as the attack was ongoing in downtown Ouagadougou at the 147-room Splendid Hotel, according to the 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."
Witness Vital Nounagnon said that he saw four men attack the hotel and neighbouring Cappuccino Café about 7.30pm. Another witness who gave only his first name, Gilbert, said that when Burkinabe security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.
A man who works the day shift at the Cappuccino Café, Alpha Ouedraogo, had left just 90 minutes before the attack began. He said he had been in touch by phone with other employees and that more than a dozen of them were in hiding and awaiting rescue.
Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, has been in turmoil since its longtime president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014. Last September, members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso's November election ushered in new leaders.
Yesterday's violence mirrored an attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in neighbouring Mali in November that left 20 people dead. In that case, Malian troops - backed by French and US special forces - swarmed in to end a seven-hour siege.