At least 29 killed in overnight assault by al-Qaida-linked terrorists on hotel popular with UN staff and foreigners
Video: Burkina Faso hotel stormed by security forces after al-Qaida hotel attack
Nadia Khomami and agencies
Saturday 16 January 2016 23.59 GMT
Last modified on Sunday 17 January 2016 05.15 GMT
At least 29 people of 18 nationalities have been killed in an attack on a hotel in the capital of Burkina Faso by al-Qaida-linked militants, security officials have confirmed. According to the foreign ministries of the countries concerned, at least two of the victims were believed to be French, two Swiss, one Dutch, and six Canadian.
’Well-loved’ American missionary was among Burkina Faso attack victims
Three jihadis, including an Arab and two black Africans, were killed in the assault on the Splendid hotel and the nearby Cappuccino cafe in Ouagadougou, officials said. A fourth extremist was killed at the Yibi hotel, which was searched by troops as part of a later raid on nearby buildings.
Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, said two of the attackers had been identified as women. A witness told Agence France-Presse that a fifth attacker was seen rushing into a nearby bar before escaping.
Security forces had freed a total of 150 hostages, including at least 33 wounded, from the hotel. Public works minister Clement Sawadogo was one of those freed.
“We appeal to the people to be vigilant and brave because we must fight on,” said Kabore, who praised the security forces and first responders. He also said the country was grateful for the military cooperation from French and Americans.
Simon Compaore, the security minister, told AFP that the death toll could rise further as security forces continued to search for casualties. “We don’t yet have a total tally of the dead. The Burkinabe forces are still combing the hotel,” he said.
Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said in a statement: “We offer our deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of all those killed. We have offered assistance to the Burkinabe authorities in their investigation of this terrible crime.” The federal government did not immediately identify the six Canadians, but Quebec’s minister of international relations, Christine St-Pierre, said all six were from the province, CBC News reported.
An American missionary killed in the attack has been identified as Michael James Riddering, 45.
Photo: Michael Riddering and his wife Amy. Photograph: Carol Boyle/AP
His mother-in-law, Carol Boyle, from Florida, told Associated Press that he died in the Cappuccino cafe where he was to meet a group that was going to volunteer at the orphanage and women’s crisis centre he ran with his wife, Amy Boyle-Riddering.
Riddering was in the cafe with a pastor, and when the attack started they ran in different directions, Boyle said, and it wasn’t until a family friend found him in the morgue that they knew he was dead.
The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said he utterly condemned the attack and offered his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured. “We advise British nationals in Burkina Faso to avoid the area where the attack took place, follow the instructions of local security authorities and monitor Foreign Office (FCO) travel advice,” he said. The Foreign Office said it was not aware of any Britons being caught up in the attack.
Islamist extremists invaded the Splendid hotel and the Cappuccino cafe late on Friday night. The militants took control of the five-storey hotel, which is popular with UN staff and foreigners, burning cars outside and firing in the air to drive back crowds.
Security forces freed at least 60 hostages when they first stormed the building, with commandos continuing to fight a floor-by-floor battle with the gunmen several hours after the initial attack.
“It was horrible, people were sleeping and there was blood everywhere,” said Yannick Sawadogo, one of those who escaped. “They were firing at people at close range. We heard them speaking and they were walking around people and firing at people who were not dead. And when they came out they started a fire.”
Video: ‘We played dead, but those they found alive would be shot’
Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighbouring Mali to aid in the rescue. One member of the US military was embedded with the French forces at the scene, and the US was working to provide France with surveillance and reconnaissance help, according to a US senior defence official.
The source told Associated Press that there were about 75 US troops in Burkina Faso: 15 assigned to the embassy and about 60 assisting the French military.
An al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM, or al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility during the attack, saying it was “revenge against France and the disbelieving west”, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
The attackers were members of the Al-Murabitoun group based in Mali and run by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, SITE said. In a message posted in Arabic on the militants’ “Muslim Africa” Telegram account, it said fighters “broke into a restaurant of one of the biggest hotels in the capital of Burkina Faso, and are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion”.
Fighters who spoke by phone later “asserted the fall of many dead crusaders”, AQIM said, according to SITE.
The French president, François Hollande, condemned the assault as an “odious and cowardly attack”.
It follows a raid on a hotel in neighbouring Mali in November, in which 20 people died, including 14 foreigners. That attack was claimed by the same al-Qaida affiliate behind the Ouagadougou assault.
One witness told Associated Press he saw four men attack the hotel and neighbouring cafe at about 7.30pm. Another witness said that when security forces arrived, they turned around rather than confronting the attackers.
Vital Nounayon, a waiter at a restaurant across the street from the hotel, said: “We had just opened and there were a few customers we started to serve when we heard gunshots ... There were three men shooting in the air. Lots of people left their cars and motorcycles and ran. The attackers set fire to the vehicles. They also fired on the Cappuccino cafe across from the hotel before setting it on fire.” He added that the attackers wore turbans.
Robert Sangare, the director of Ouagadougou’s university hospital centre, said: “We have received around 15 wounded people. There are people with bullet wounds and people who are injured because of falls.” He said the patients had told him they had seen about 20 bodies in the hotel.
Photo: Security forces outside the Splendid hotel. Photograph: Reuters Tv/Reuters
France’s ambassador to the country said a curfew had been put in place in Ouagadougou from 11pm to 6am. Gilles Thibault said on his Twitter account that the embassy had set up a crisis unit for its citizens. More than 3,500 French nationals live in the former colony, according to foreign ministry data. An Air France flight from Paris to Ouagadougou was diverted to neighbouring Niger.
The hotel is sometimes used by French troops with Operation Barkhane, a force based in Chad and set up to combat Islamist militants across Africa’s vast, arid Sahel region. This is understood to be the first time militants have targeted Ouagadougou.
Photo: A woman rescued from the Splendid hotel siege. Photograph: AP
In December, a senior member of AQIM had called for Muslims in several countries, including Burkina Faso, to wage jihad. The largely Muslim country has been in turmoil since its longtime president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014. Last September, members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso’s November election ushered in new leaders.