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Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for hotel attack in Burkina Faso

At least 20 people have been killed, according to a hospital chief
Army forces near Hotel Splendid where attackers took hostages and reportedly have killed some 20 people in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou (AFP)

Witnesses heard and saw gunshots and explosions coming from one of Ouagadougou's main hotels and a nearby restaurant on Friday night, when at least 20 people were killed, according to a hospital chief and medical sources. 

The siege has now been declared over, with three attackers also killed. More than 125 people held hostage by the militants have been freed, authorities said on Saturday. 

An al-Qaeda affiliate in Africa has claimed responsibility for the attack, said a US-based monitoring group.

The "mujahideen brothers" of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) "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," the SITE Intelligence Group reported, quoting an Arabic-language AQIM message.

The attackers holed themselves up in the hotel on Friday evening with explosives, which slowed the operation to retake the hotel, authorities said. 

There are "victims and hostages" in the then ongoing attack on a hotel in central Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Alpha Barry told AFP on Friday, adding that a counter-assault was being prepared, possibly with the support of French forces.

"At the moment these are Burkinabe forces, but we are not ruling out possible support of foreign forces including French special forces."

On Friday evening as the assault raged, sources said that around 10 vehicles were on fire in the street where the four-star Splendid hotel and the Cappuccino restaurant opposite are located. Both are popular with UN staff and Westerners and are in a busy, central area of Burkina Faso's capital not far from the international airport.

Three men clad in turbans at one point fired at the scene on Avenue Kwame Nkrumah, one of Ouagadougou's main thoroughfares.

A witness reported seeing four assailants who were of Arab or white appearance and "wearing turbans". 

A Cappuccino staff member, reached by telephone by AFP, said several people had been killed at the restaurant, without being able to give an exact toll.

Witnesses originally said the attackers had been holed up in the 147-room hotel, while sporadic exchanges of fire could be heard between the assailants and security forces.

The Burkinabe army meanwhile revealed that an armed group had carried out an attack earlier in the day near the border with Mali, killing two people.

"In the afternoon [at] around 2:00 pm (1400 GMT), around 20 heavily armed unidentified individuals carried out an attack against gendarmes in the village of Tin Abao," the army said in a statement, adding that an officer and a civilian had been killed and two more gendarmes wounded.

The attack comes less than two months after a hostage siege at the luxury Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital Bamako in November, in which 20 people died including 14 foreigners.

Last month, Burkina Faso swore in Roch Marc Christian Kabore as president, completing the troubled West African state's transition after the overthrow of its long-time ruler, Blaise Compaore, in 2014 and a failed coup attempt in September.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in October 2014, when Compaore sought to extend his rule, forcing him to step down after ruling the poor, landlocked country with an iron fist for 27 years.

Kabore, 58, becomes only the third civilian president of the nine who have held power since the country's independence from France in 1960.

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