OUAGADOUGOU // Heavy gunfire erupted early on Saturday as forces from Burkina Faso and France fought to retake a luxury hotel seized by Al Qaeda militants the night before.
At least 10 bodies have been found since the attack on the 147-room Splendid Hotel in downtown Ouagadougou and an unknown number of hostages have been killed, a government minister said.
The attack was launched by the same extremists behind a similar siege at an upscale hotel in the Malian capital in November that left 20 dead.
It was not immediately known how many people remained inside the hotel as the morning call to prayer signalled a new day in this West African nation.
Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighboring Mali to aid the rescue.
The regional Al Qaeda affiliate known as Aqim claimed responsibility for the attack online, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
In a message posted in Arabic on the militants’ “Muslim Africa” Telegram account, it said fighters had “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,” the message claimed.
Burkina Faso’s internal affairs minister Simon Compaore said that 10 bodies had been found inside the Cappuccino Cafe, a restaurant next to the hotel.
The attack mirrored one on the Radisson Blu hotel in neighboring Mali in November that left 20 people dead.
In that case, Malian troops – backed by French and American special forces – swarmed in to retake the building and free terrified guests and hotel staff during 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 message 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.
Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, had for years been mostly spared from the violence carried out by extremist groups who were abducting foreigners for ransom in Mali and Niger.
Then last April, a Romanian national was kidnapped in an attack that was the first of its kind in Burkina Faso.
The country also has been in growing political 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 only about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso’s November election ushered in new leaders.