At least 63 hostages were freed from a hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as security forces tried to end a siege by armed assailants, Agence France-Presse reported Saturday, citing Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou.
Thirty of the freed hostages were uninjured, while 33 were wounded and at least 20 people were killed, AFP reported. Police and military troops surrounded the Splendid Hotel after three armed men entered the building on Friday, army spokesman Guy-Herve Ye said in a phone interview. The terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the violence in a statement to Mauritania’s Al-Akhbar newspaper.
“There are many hostages from many nationalities in the hotel,” Foreign Minister Alpha Barry said Friday on France24. The incident “is reminiscent of a terrorist attack and jihadists” and follows an assault earlier in the day near the border with Mali and Niger that left at least two dead, he added.
The attack shows al-Qaeda’s growing willingness in West Africa to target civilians in capitals. In November, at least 20 people died after militants besieged the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali. Before that, al-Qaeda had limited itself to fighting Malian, French and United Nations soldiers based in northern Mali, which is isolated and semi-arid.
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.
The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou said it’s “closely following the situation downtown,” while France Info reported that an Air France flight coming from Paris was diverted to neighboring Niger.
The latest attack comes days after a gun-and-suicide bomb assault claimed by the Islamic State in central Jakarta, Indonesia. Islamist militants in Somalia claimed this week to have killed 63 Kenyan soldiers at an African Union military base in the southwest of the country.
Burkina Faso, Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer, has faced political instability in recent years. Formerly known as the Republic of Upper Volta, President Blaise Compaore was ousted in October 2014 after 27 years in power. A coup followed in September last year and, in November elections, Roch Marc Christian Kabore was voted into the presidency.