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.
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.
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.”
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.