Gunmen take hostages at Burkina Faso Hotel in suspected terror attack

January 16, 2016, 7:28am

Burkina Faso's soldier stands near Hotel Splendid where the attackers remain with sporadic gunfire continuing in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou on Jan. 15, 2016. Photo: Bloomberg

By Simon Gongo, Baudelaire Mieu and Olivier Monnier, Bloomberg Business

A group linked to al-Qaeda said it took hostages at a hotel popular with foreigners in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Friday, marking the second attack by the militants in a West African capital since November.

Three armed men entered the Splendid Hotel, which was later surrounded by police and military troops, Burkina Faso army spokesman Guy-Herve Ye said in a phone interview. An assault to take back the hotel has been ordered.

At least 20 people have been killed, Agence France-Presse reported. The terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the violence in a statement to Mauritania’s Al-Akhbar newspaper.

“There are many hostages from many nationalities in the hotel,” Foreign Minister Alpha Barry said on France24. The attack “is reminiscent of a terrorist attack and jihadists” and follows an assault earlier in the day near the border with Mali and Niger that left at least two dead, he added.

The attack in Burkina Faso shows al-Qaeda’s growing willingness in West Africa to target civilians in capitals. Before the November siege at a Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, in which at least 20 people died, al-Qaeda had limited itself to fighting Malian, French and United Nations soldiers based in northern Mali, which is isolated and semi-arid.

The group, led by Algerian militant Belmokhtar al Mokhtar, took hostages and killed at least 38 people in 2013 at a BP Plc plant in Algeria. The militants set up operations in northern Mali a year earlier after a coup left a power vacuum.

French President Francois Hollande sent troops and fighter planes to repel al-Qaeda in 2013 to Mali. Thousands of soldiers continue to combat militants in the Sahel as part of the French mission.

The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou said it is “closely following the situation downtown,” while France Info reported that an Air France flight coming from Paris was diverted to neighboring Niger.

AFP said several people had been killed, citing an unidentified restaurant hotel employee. Radio Omega, a local outlet, said the government had ordered a curfew.

The attack comes days after a gun-and-suicide bomb assault claimed by the Islamic State in central Jakarta, Indonesia. Islamist militants in Somalia claimed this week to have killed 63 Kenyan soldiers at an African Union military base in the southwest of the country.

Burkina Faso, Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer, has faced political instability in recent years. Formerly known as the Republic of Upper Volta, President Blaise Compaore was ousted in October 2014 after 27 years in power. A coup followed in September last year and, in November elections, Roch Marc Christian Kabore was voted into the presidency.