OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso and French forces rescued more people from a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital early Saturday as they worked to take back the fire-blackened building, exchanging gunfire with al-Qaida militants who had seized it the night before. At least 10 bodies have been found so far, a government minister said.
An Associated Press reporter heard the gunfire coming from the hotel that was surrounded by armored vehicles and saw as nearly 10 people running out of the hotel, escorted by gendarmes. Cars and motorbikes were burned, and overturned chairs and shards of glass lay scattered about. Onlookers were kept far away from the fighting that reached into daylight.
The extremists who stormed the hotel Friday night are believed to have held some people hostages and killed them. Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou said earlier Saturday that 33 people had been evacuated from the Splendid Hotel, including the country’s public works minister.
An al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM, or al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility online as the attack was ongoing in downtown Ouagadougou at the 147-room hotel, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
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.
Internal Affairs Minister Simon Compaore said that already 10 bodies had been found inside the Cappuccino Cafe, a restaurant that is located 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. Last September members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted only about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso’s November election ushered in new leaders.
The hotel attack in Mali in November also was claimed by a leader of AQIM, who said it had been carried out as a declaration of unity with Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar’s extremist group Al-Mourabitoun, according to an audio speech that was distributed by SITE at the time. Belmoktar was a former leader in AQIM before starting his own group, which now has merged back with al-Qaida.