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Military regains control of hotel stormed by armed attackers in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso and French forces regained control of a luxury hotel Saturday in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, following a dramatic Friday attack that widened concern about the ability of Islamist extremists to attack civilian targets across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Burkina Faso's president said Saturday that at least 23 people were killed in the attack on the upscale hotel.

President Roch Marc Kaboré said that Burkinabe and French forces killed four attackers, including two women, ending the siege that had lasted for more than 12 hours. The troops freed 126 people from Ouagadougou's Splendid Hotel early Saturday. Many of them were reportedly injured.

Gunfire could still be heard outside the hotel early Saturday as Burkinabe forces moved through the building.

Internal Affairs Minister Simon Compaore confirmed that 10 bodies were found inside the Cappuccino Cafe, a restaurant next to the Splendid Hotel, according to an Associated Press report.

An al-Qaeda affiliate in the region claimed responsibility for the attack.

Even as Islamist groups have carried out attacks across the continent — al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Qaeda in Mali — Burkina Faso had largely been spared such extremist violence. Friday's assault on the Splendid Hotel, frequented by foreigners, diplomats and well-to-do Burkinabes, appeared to change that.

On the "Muslim Africa" Telegram account of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the extremist group wrote that its fighters "are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion," according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Witnesses told the Associated Press that four armed men burst into the hotel and a neighboring cafe at 7:30 p.m. Other reports said the assault began when men set fire to vehicles outside the hotel. Once they entered, the attackers took a number of hostages, and flames engulfed the area.

A government official later said that 33 hostages, including a government minister, had been freed, according to Reuters.

Early Saturday, a Burkina Faso ministry said extremists in the north had kidnapped an Austrian doctor and his wife, AP reported. It was not immediately clear whether there was any connection with the assault on the hotel in Ouagadougou.

The attack mirrored an operation in November, when fighters from two groups — al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Mourabitoun — held hotel guests hostage at the Radisson Blu in Mali's capital, leaving 20 people dead.

The death toll in Friday's attack in Ouagadougou remained unclear as Burkinabe security forces waged a gun battle with the attackers, according to news reports.

A survivor told Robert Sangare, a local hospital director, that he thought the number of dead could be as high as 20, according to AP. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed that 30 "Crusaders" were killed in the attack.

Burkina Faso, a former French colony, has worked with France and the United States in the fight against violent Islamist extremists in West Africa.

French President François Hollande called the incident an "odious and cowardly attack."

On Friday, at least one member of the U.S. military was "providing advice and assistance to French forces at the hotel," according to an American defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity under Pentagon rules.

The official said France had asked for U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support. The U.S. military has about 60 troops in the country who work with the French troops on security assistance.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said in a later statement that the operation was aimed at punishing France and the "disbelieving West," according to the SITE translation.

In the past few weeks, al-Qaeda's rival, the Islamic State, has claimed a string of terrorist attacks in different parts of the world. On Thursday, assailants set off bombs and opened fire on a busy street in Jakarta, Indonesia. Five of the attackers and two other people — a Canadian and an Indonesian — died.

Two days earlier, a suicide bomber set off a blast in the historic tourist district of Istanbul, killing 10 German tourists. Those two attacks were claimed by the Islamic State.

Before Friday, Burkina Faso had been plagued far more by domestic political problems than terrorism. The country has been in turmoil since October 2014, when President Blaise Compaoré was overthrown during large protests. Compaoré now lives in exile in the Ivory Coast, but forces loyal to him staged a coup in September, briefly seizing power. In November, voters chose Kaboré, a former prime minister, as the new president.

Last year, in an incident that was seen largely as an aberration, a Romanian security guard was abducted from a manganese mine near Burkina Faso's border with Mali. Al- Mourabitoun, an al-Qaeda-linked group, later claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

[Source: By Kevin Sieff, The Washington Post, Nairobi, 16Jan16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 11Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.