Attack on Burkina Faso hotel claimed by al Qaeda
Security forces in Burkina Faso battled suspected Islamist fighters late on Friday who were holding hostages at a hotel used by foreigners in the capital, Ouagadougou, gendarmes and witnesses said.
The attack, claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), would be the first by Islamist militants in the capital of Burkina Faso. It follows a deadly raid on a hotel in Mali last November as well as attacks by militants in other countries in West Africa.
The gunmen stormed the five-story Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou's business district, burning cars outside and firing in the air to drive back crowds before security forces arrived, prompting an intense exchange of gunfire.
Some of the wounded arrived at a local hospital, but there were so far no confirmed reports of deaths.
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.
"It is continuing at this time. We are trying to know how many attackers they are to better coordinate our actions," said a senior official with the national gendarmes who asked not to be named. "Hostages have been taken. The operation could take several hours."
A Reuters witness saw gunmen emerge from the hotel and fire into the air. A vehicle carrying security personnel arrived and shortly afterward an intense gun battle began.
"We had just opened and there were a few customers we started to serve when we heard gunshots ... There were three men shooting in the air," said Vital Nounayon, a waiter at a restaurant across the street from the hotel.
"Lots of people left their cars and motorcycles and ran. They (attackers) set fire to the vehicles. They also fired on the Capuccino Restaurant across from the hotel before setting it on fire," he said, adding that the attackers wore turbans.