Islamic militants with links to the local al-Qaeda affiliate known as AQIM stormed a Burkina Faso hotel on Friday, taking hostages and opened fire on responding security forces. The hotel caught fire as responding forces detonated explosives while attempting to free several hostages. The Associated Press reported that nearly 20 people were dead and 15 were wounded. Witnesses in Ouagadougou said gunfire and explosions erupted nearby as four or five militants stormed the four-story Splendid Hotel in the city center.
The local al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM claimed responsibility online as the attack was ongoing in Ouagadougou, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The group issued its claim in Arabic on their “Muslim Africa” Telegram account, saying the attackers “are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion.” According to the message from the American embassy, there were “reports of fire and gunfire in the area of Hotel Splendid and Café restaurant Cappuccino.”
Jihadists have attacked hotels before in neighboring Mali, including a devastating attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in November that left 20 people dead. While Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, has largely been spared the violence wracked by Islamic extremist groups in Mali, a Romanian national was abducted last April. BBC reported that two car bombs exploded outside the hotel before masked gunmen stormed the hotel. In addition, one witness told AFP that a nearby restaurant,
The Cappuccino, was also hit. Another unconfirmed report on social media said six bearded men wearing turbans and masks went into the hotel. The attacks follow growing tension in the wake of a coup that collapsed in September. The newly installed government recently issued an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro, the head of the National Assembly in neighboring Ivory Coast, for his alleged involvement in the failed coup attempt.
At least one U.S. soldier was on the scene, a U.S. defense official told CNN. France requested immediate support from U.S. soldiers and a U.S. drone will be flown over the scene to provide surveillance, the official said. The United States has approximately 75 military personnel in Burkina Faso, including 15 assigned to the U.S. Embassy and about 60 who provide security assistance — training, advising and assisting — to the French military in Burkina Faso. Both the French and American embassies warned their citizens to stay away from the downtown area.