Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (BBN)-About 30 hostages have been freed after an attack on a hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, that killed at least 20 people.
Several masked men stormed the Splendid Hotel, taking hostages, after car bombs went off outside, eyewitnesses said, reports BBC.
Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou tweeted that some 30 hostages had been liberated and that the military operation was ongoing.
He said Minister of Public Works Clement Sawadogo was among those freed.
Thirty-three people were in hospital receiving treatment, he added.
It is not known if any hostages remain inside the hotel.
Hospital chief Robert Sangare said at least 20 people died.
One group that monitors jihadist networks said al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed it was behind the attack.
Witnesses said the gunmen had initially entered the Cappuccino cafe near the hotel – used by UN staff and Westerners. One employee at the cafe told Agence France Presse that “several people” had been killed there.
Eyewitnesses reported hearing exchanges of gunfire between the men and security forces, as well as sporadic gunfire from inside the four-star hotel, which is close to the country’s international airport.
The US military, that has some 75 staff in Burkina Faso, said it was ready to help French troops at the hotel
France’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, Gilles Thibault, says a curfew is in place until 06:00 local time
The SITE monitoring group, which analyses jihadist networks, said al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed it was behind the attack.
The monitoring group specifically stated that those responsible were the al-Murabitoun group, which is based in the Sahara desert in northern Mali and contains fighters loyal to the veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
Last month, the group announced it had merged with AQIM. Belmokhtar, a one-eyed commander who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, was once a member of AQIM but left after a falling-out with its leadership.
Belmokhtar has been declared dead many times, the latest by a US air strike on 14 June last year in Libya – according to Libyan authorities – but his death has not been formally confirmed.
AQIM and al-Murabitoun said they were behind an attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso’s neighbour Mali in November, that left 20 people dead.
Burkina Faso had recently held its first presidential election since a coup earlier last year.
That coup toppled long-time leader Blaise Compaore, who had governed for 27 years.
“We are still in a context of political fragility, so I think the timing of this attack is meaningful,” Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, told the BBC from Ouagadougou.
“The country has long borders with Mali and Niger, and we know there are armed groups present on the border, so this was probably something we had coming.”