Six Canadians among 29 killed in jihadist attack on Burkina hotel

Six Canadians among 29 killed in jihadist attack on Burkina hotel
PHOTO: Reuters

Ouagadougou - At least 29 people, including six Canadians, were killed in an attack on a top hotel in the capital of Burkina Faso, the latest country to be drawn into a regional jihadist battle against the West and its allies.

Interior Minister Simon Compaore said 176 people had been rescued after security forces retook the four-star Splendid hotel and nearby Cappuccino restaurant on Saturday, more than 12 hours after the attack began. Around 30 people were wounded, he added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau six Canadian citizens were among those killed.

"Canada strongly condemns the deadly terrorist attacks that took place in Ouagadougou," Trudeau said in a press release.

France and Switzerland confirmed that two citizens from each country were also among the dead - all four of them killed at the restaurant - as Burkina Faso announced three days of national mourning.

"The Burkinabe nation is in shock," President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who took office just last month, said in a radio and television address.

"For the first time in its history, our country has fallen victim to a series of barbaric terrorist attacks," he said. But he added that the people of Burkina would "always emerge victorious".

Compaore said the bodies of three "very young" jihadists had been identified, all of them men.

A security source said earlier that at least four attackers had been killed, two of them women.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed the attack on behalf of an affiliate, saying the strike on the former French colony was in "revenge against France and the disbelieving West", according to a statement carried by US-based monitoring group SITE.

AQIM said the gunmen were from the Al-Murabitoun group of notorious Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

The attack will heighten concerns that jihadist groups are casting their net wider in search of targets in west Africa, two months after a siege at a luxury hotel in neighbouring Mali, where 20 people were killed, mostly foreigners.

AQIM and Al-Murabitoun jointly claimed that attack.

The attack began around 7:45 pm on Friday when an unknown number of attackers stormed the 147-room Splendid hotel in the heart of Ouagadougou.

An AFP reporter saw three gunmen wearing turbans firing on Avenue Kwame Nkrumah, one of the city's main thoroughfares. Another witness reported seeing four assailants.

The hotel and its surrounding area turned into a battleground as Burkina Faso troops, backed by French forces based in the city under a regional counterterrorism initiative, launched an attempt to retake the hotel around 2:00 am.

The US, which has a small contingent in the country, said it supported French forces in the operation.

Several guests managed to escape from the hotel through side entrances, including Labour Minister Clement Sawadogo, who emerged unscathed.

"It was horrible... there was blood everywhere. They were firing at people at close range," Yannick Sawadogo, one of those who escaped, told AFP.

"They were walking around people and firing at people who were not dead." Compaore told AFP that 10 bodies had been discovered on the terrace of the Cappuccino restaurant.

French President Francois Hollande denounced the "odious and cowardly attack", with the European Union and Britain issuing similar condemnations.

Also on Saturday, the Burkina government said that two Australians were kidnapped Friday in the northern Baraboule region, near the border with Niger and Mali.

Malian militant group Ansar Dine told AFP the couple were being held by jihadists from the Al-Qaeda-linked "Emirate of the Sahara".

The Australian department of foreign affairs told AFP it was aware of the reports.

"Our post in Accra, Ghana, is working with local authorities on a suspected kidnapping. We will not comment further on the situation," it said.

The attack in Ouagadougou was unprecedented in Burkina Faso and comes as people were enjoying a return to stability after the November elections which ended a shaky transitional period since veteran leader Blaise Compaore's 2014 ouster, including a failed coup.

"The elections went off well... That makes the country a symbol of progress, which is what those people want to destroy," said Cynthia Ohayon, a security analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Al-Murabitoun had already begun to move into the impoverished country of around 17 million. In April last year, the group claimed the abduction of the Romanian security chief of a mine in the country's north.

Burkina Faso is one of the five countries in the restive Sahel region that is hosting France's Barkhane counter-terror mission.

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