Al Qaeda Affiliate Attack Hotel – leave 20 Dead
OUAGADOUGOU, Jan 16 (Reuters) – At least 20 people died and others were taken hostage when Islamist gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital city of Burkina Faso on Friday, a hospital director told Reuters, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Security forces surrounded the Splendid Hotel and were awaiting orders to begin an assault to rescue the hostages and retake the building, which is frequented by Westerners, the country’s foreign minister Alpha Barry said in a telephone interview.
Medical personnel moved wounded away from the front of the hotel.
A U.S. defense official said that France had requested U.S. intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance support in the city and at least one U.S. military member in Burkina Faso was giving “advice and assistance” to French forces at the hotel.
The government has not ruled out calling for help from French special forces stationed in the country, Barry said in a telephone interview.
This is the first time Islamist militants have carried out an assault in the capital of Burkina Faso.
It follows a deadly raid on a luxury hotel in Mali last November in which two attackers killed 20 people including citizens of Russia, China and the United States. There have been attacks by militants in other countries in West Africa.
The assault in Ouagadougou began mid-evening and by 11 p.m. (2300 GMT) the sounds of gunfire and explosions had died down.
“We have received around 15 wounded people. There are people with bullet wounds and people who are injured because of falls,” said Robert Sangare, director of Ouagadougou’s university hospital center.
Sangare said one European woman being treated at the hospital told him the attackers appeared to target white people.
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.
The landlocked West African state has endured political turmoil since October 2014 when longtime President Blaise Compaore was overthrown during mass protests and elite troops launched a one-week coup in September 2015.
But it has been largely spared violence by Islamist militants, who have staged attacks in Mali, a country with which it shares a 600-km (375-mile) border.
(Additional reporting by Makini Brice in Dakar, Joe Bavier in Abidjan and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Toni Reinhold)