Friday 9 December 2016

Extremists killed as operation ends at Burkina Faso hotel seized by al Qaida

Published 16/01/2016 | 06:47

In this image taken from video from AP Television, a rescued woman sits in a vehicle with bullet hole in windshield near the Splendid Hotel (AP Television via AP)
In this image taken from video from AP Television, a rescued woman sits in a vehicle with bullet hole in windshield near the Splendid Hotel (AP Television via AP)
A view shows vehicles on fire outside Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in this still image taken from a video January 15, 2016, during a siege by Islamist gunmen. REUTERS/Reuters TV
A motorcyclist rides along a road while fire and smoke rising from Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou where suspected Islamist fighters are holding hostages in this still image from a video grab REUTERS/RTB via REUTERS TV
In this grab taken from video by Associate Press Television, two unidentified armed men approach a vehicle, near to a hotel, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Associated Press Television)

Burkina Faso and French forces killed at least three extremists and freed 126 people as they took back control of a luxury hotel in the capital that had been seized by the attackers, the minister of security said Saturday.

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The Islamic extremists stormed the hotel and a nearby cafe Friday night.

Gunfire ramped up early Saturday as gendarme and military forces fought to take back the fire-blackened building. They took control of the Splendid Hotel and were searching nearby hotels to be sure there were not extremists hiding there, said minister of security and internal affairs Simon Compaore.

About 33 people have been wounded, and officials are still determining the number of casualties, he said. At least 10 bodies had been found so far, another government minister said.

The harrowing attack was launched by the same extremists behind a similar siege at an upmarket hotel in Bamako, Mali in November that left 20 dead.

It was not immediately known how many people remained inside the hotel in Ouagadougou as the morning call to prayer signalled a new day in the West African nation.

Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighbouring Mali to help the rescue. One US military member was embedded with French forces at the scene, and the United States was working to help provide France with surveillance and reconnaissance help, according to a US senior defence official.

An al Qaida affiliate known as AQIM, or al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility online as the attack was under way in central Ouagadougou at the 147-room hotel, according to the Site Intelligence Group.

Security officers take their positions outside Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in this still image taken from a video January 15, 2016, during a siege by Islamist gunmen. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Security officers take their positions outside Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in this still image taken from a video January 15, 2016, during a siege by Islamist gunmen. REUTERS/Reuters TV

In a message posted in Arabic on the militants' "Muslim Africa" Telegram account, it said 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." Fighters who spoke by phone later "asserted the fall of many dead crusaders," AQIM said, according to Site.

Mr Compaore said that already 10 bodies had been found inside the Cappuccino Cafe, a restaurant next to the Splendid Hotel.

"We know that the gunmen won't get out of the hotel alive," said one witness, who gave only his first name, Gilbert. "Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong."

Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, had for years been mostly spared from the violence carried out by Islamic extremist groups who were abducting foreigners for ransom in Mali and Niger. Then last April, a Romanian national was kidnapped in an attack that was the first of its kind in Burkina Faso.

The country also has been in growing political turmoil since its longtime president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014.

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