Burkina Faso terror: Security forces raid besieged hotel, free 63 hostages
Security forces raided a besieged hotel in Burkina Faso and freed 63 hostages early Saturday — hours after terrorists struck in the middle of the night.
Of those, 33 have been hospitalized, Alpha Barry, the nation’s foreign minister, told CNN affiliate BFMTV. Preliminary reports indicate that 20 people were killed, he said.
Burkinabe forces scoured the rooms at the Splendid Hotel, looking for terrorists and any remaining hostages. Those rescued included a government minister, state media reported.
The nation’s forces, with logistical support from American and French troops, circled the hotel for several hours before they started rescuing hostages.
Shortly after they stormed the hotel, gunshots that had raged for most of the day died down.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the Friday night attack in the capital of Ouagadougou. It mirrored another attack at a Mali hotel last year, which the militant group also said it conducted.
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 U.S. planned to fly a drone over the scene to provide surveillance, a defense official said.
The U.S. 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.
A branch of al Qaeda, 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.
Burkina Faso has new President
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% 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.