126 people freed as siege comes to an end

126 people freed as siege comes to an end

Latest update 9.30am

Authorities in Burkina Faso have said the security operation at hotel in the capital that was seized by Islamist militants has finished.

The security minister has said 126 people have been freed after forces regained control of the Splendid Hotel.

30 people are thought to have died when al-Qaida militants attacked last night.

Sky's foreign affairs editor Sam Kiley has said it is a target because of its association with France: “The French are leading an International effort to combat al Qaida and their splinter groups scattered right across that region and Burkino Faso is not likely to be spared that sort of attack if it is associated with this French operation.”

Latest update 7.30am

Forces from Burkina Faso and France are battling to retake a luxury hotel attacked by al Qaida militants who seized and killed an unknown number of hostages.

At least 10 bodies have been found in a cafe next door to the Splendid Hotel, which was also attacked.

About 30 hostages, including a government minister, were freed by troops from the 147-room hotel in central Ouagadougou, which is popular with Westerners, nine hours after it was stormed in the terror attack.

Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighbouring Mali. One US military member was embedded with French forces at the scene of the attack and America was working to help provide France with surveillance and reconnaissance help, according to a senior US senior defence official.

It was not immediately known how many people remained inside the Splendid Hotel as Saturday dawned.

The local al Qaida affiliate known as AQIM claimed responsibility in an online statement as the attack raged, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

In a message posted in Arabic on the militants’ “Muslim Africa” Telegram account, the al Qaida group 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”.

Internal affairs minister Simon Compaore said at least 10 bodies were inside the Cappuccino Cafe, next door to the Splendid.

Communications minister Remis Dandjinou said public works minister Clement Sawadogo was among those evacuated from the hotel.

It was not immediately known how many people may have been killed during the siege, which began on Friday night, though one survivor estimated as many as 20 were dead inside, according to hospital chiefs.

Vital Nounagnon said he saw four men attack the hotel and neighbouring Cappuccino Cafe at about 7.30pm local time. Another witness who gave only his first name, Gilbert, said that when Burkinabe security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.

“But we know that the gunmen won’t get out of the hotel alive,” he said. “Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong.”

The largely Muslim country has been in turmoil since its long-time president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014. Last September, members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted only about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso’s November election ushered in new leaders.

Al Qaida was also behind a similar siege in November at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako, that left 20 dead. Malian troops, backed by French and American special forces, retook the building and freed terrified guests and hotel staff after a siege that lasted more than seven hours.

The Bamako hotel attack also was claimed by a leader of AQIM, who said it had been carried out as a declaration of unity with Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar’s extremist group Al-Mourabitoun, according to an audio speech that was distributed by SITE at the time.

Belmoktar was a former leader in AQIM before starting his own group, which now has merged back with al Qaida.

While Burkina Faso has largely been spared from the violence carried out by Islamic extremist groups in Mali, a Romanian national was abducted last April.

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