Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (BBN)-Attackers raided a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso overnight, opening fire and seizing hostages in an hourslong siege that left 23 people dead.
An al Qaeda-linked terror group claimed responsibility for the assault at Splendid Hotel- a popular meeting place for Western diplomats in the capital of Ouagadougou, reports CNN.
The attack started Friday night, and dragged on under the cover of darkness.
Security forces circled the perimeter to assess the situation before they stormed in hours later.
“Everyone was panicked and was laying down on the floor. There was blood everywhere, they were shooting at people at point blank,” survivor Yannick Sawadogo said.
Security forces entered the besieged hotel early Saturday and freed 126 hostages, half of whom were hospitalized, said Alpha Barry, the nation’s foreign minister.
The people killed were from 18 nationalities, according to security minister Simon Compaore.
At least four attackers were killed, including two women, he said. It’s unclear whether their deaths were included in the 23.
‘WE COULD HEAR THEM TALKING’
Survivors described horrific scenes as the gunmen paced and fired in the hotel Friday night.
“We could hear them talking and they were walking around and kept shooting at people that seemed alive,” Sawadogo told CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Sawadogo said he escaped through a broken window, and could barely see because of smoke.
SEARCH FOR HOSTAGES, TERRORISTS
Burkinabe forces scoured through the rooms at the hotel, looking for terrorists and any remaining hostages.
Those rescued included a government minister, state media reported.
The West African nation’s forces got logistical support from American and French troops.
Shortly after the forces stormed the hotel, the sounds of gunshots faded.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack, which mirrored another one at a Mali hotel last year.
The militant group claimed responsibility for the November attack in the neighboring nation as well.
HOTEL POPULAR WITH DIPLOMATS
The attack in Burkina Faso appeared well planned, with a group of terrorists coming to the hotel during the day and mingling with guests, Barry said.
When darkness fell, more attackers joined the group, he said.
Before the hotel assault, the gunmen attacked the Cappuccino café across the street, which had about 100 people inside, according to the state broadcaster.
The gunmen then took off to the Splendid Hotel- a popular meeting spot for Western diplomats and business people. They fired and seized hostages.
Witnesses said the attackers wore turbans and spoke a language not native to Burkina Faso, a former French colony.
As the siege continued, the US planned to fly a drone over the scene to provide surveillance, a defense official said.
The US has about 75 military personnel in Burkina Faso, including 15 assigned to the embassy, according to the defense official.
An additional 60 help train and advise the French military in the nation.
AL QAEDA CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the assault, local media reported. CNN could not independently confirm that claim.
The al Qaeda-linked Al-Mourabitoun said it conducted the attack, which had similarities to one in neighboring Mali in November.
Al-Mourabitoun had claimed responsibility for the attack at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali, which left 22 people dead.
The group’s leader is veteran al Qaeda figure Mokhtar Belmokhtar, according to the Mauritania-based Al Akhbar news agency.
In June, Libya’s interim government reported that he died in an American airstrike.
‘ODIOUS AND COWARDLY ATTACK’
The attack comes a few months after Burkina Faso marked a turning point following a historic presidential election.
The West African nation elected a new President in November after nearly three decades of autocratic rule followed by a civil uprising.
Roch Marc Christian Kabore, the nation’s former prime minister, won more than 53 per cent of votes in that election.
Elections were postponed the month before because of a failed coup against the transitional government.
The West, particularly France, considers Burkina Faso a key ally in the fight against al Qaeda.
French President Francois Hollande said he stands with the nation against the “odious and cowardly attack.”
The US Embassy also condemned the attack, describing it as a “senseless assault on innocent people.”