Gunfire, explosions, hostage situation at major hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital

An ongoing hostage situation is being reported at a hotel in the city center of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, after at least three armed turbaned men began shooting at a restaurant and a hotel frequently used by Westerners and UN staff.

Two groups of security forces began an assault to neutralize the situation at the hotel, Reuters quoted a witness as saying. Both groups entered the hotel lobby, according to the witness. No gunfire has been heard, but the lobby was on fire.

A total of 63 hostages have been freed from the “Splendid” Hotel, Burkina Faso’s Communication Minister, Remis Dandjinou, told AFP.

“There are some dead but we don’t have the numbers. The assault is ongoing with the Burkinabe forces supported by French special forces,” Dandjinou said. He added that Burkina Faso’s Labour Minister, Clement Sawadogo, was among those rescued.

Minutes after the report that dozens of people had been freed, heavy gunfire was heard at the hotel, according to journalist Olympia de Maismont reporting on Twitter.

Some 100-150 people are believed to have been in the hotel and restaurant at the time of the attack, according to witnesses speaking to media.

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The shooting was initiated by three armed and turbaned men, an AFP journalist reported from the scene. A car was on fire outside the Splendid Hotel, he added. The property is frequently used by Westerners and UN agency staff.

A social media user from the West African country reported that a “red level” alert has been announced in the city, with an “ongoing hostage taking in Ouagadougou, deaths, wounded [and] fire.”

The user said that the city center is an “insecure area” and advised the public not to go there and “warn relatives.” He added that it is the Splendid Hotel that is “on fire.”

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Suspected Islamist terrorists stormed the hotel, burning cars and firing into the air, Reuters reported, citing witnesses and police sources. Security forces that arrived at the scene were involved in an intense exchange of gunfire with attackers.

A cafe popular with westerners located opposite the hotel was also targeted by the attackers, AFP reported, citing an eyewitness.

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Local Burkina 24 media has also reported gunshots on Avenue Kwameh Krumah in Ouagadougou. “The reason behind the shots are still unknown,” it added on its Facebook page.

Another Twitter user, Basidou Kinda, who claims to be an “investigative journalist,” also reported “heavy gunfire in the city center,” adding that the situation in the city is “confused.”

US Embassy in Burkina Faso capital ‘aware and closely following the situation in downtown Ouagadougou’

Several dead in the attack, says restaurant employee.

At least 20 people have been killed and 15 others injured in the ongoing attack, AFP quoted the head of Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital, Robert Sangare, as saying.

“For the dead, we do not have a precise figure, but there are at least 20 dead,” Sangare said. “We have had at least 15 wounded with bullet wounds and others who suffered injuries during the panic to escape.”

The gunmen first attacked a restaurant, which is located across from the hotel and owned by a Ukrainian national, Russia’s Honorary Council in Burkina Faso, Anna Rachina-Kulibali, told TASS.

Rachina said that there are foreign nationals among the dead, adding that is still unknown whether any of the victims were Russian.

“There are foreigners [among the dead], possibly Europeans and locals.”

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Terrorist group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group.

In December, AQIM’s senior member called on the extremist group to wage war on several countries, including Burkina Faso.

Last November, jihadists carried out a similar attack in Burkina Faso’s neighboring Mali, killing at least 19 in a 190-room Radisson hotel in the capital city of Bamako.