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Burkina Faso attack: Hostages freed in Ouagadougou hotel siege

About 30 hostages have been freed at a hotel attacked by suspected Islamist militants in Burkina Faso’s capital but at least 20 people are feared dead.

Gunmen stormed Ouagadougou’s Splendid Hotel and a nearby cafe in an attack apparently involving car bombs.

Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou said the security forces operation at the hotel was continuing.

New exchanges of fire were reported on Saturday morning by journalists at the scene in Ouagadougou.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has said it carried out the attack, according to the SITE extremist monitoring group.

A member of the Burkina Faso government, Minister of Public Works Clement Sawadogo, is among those freed at the hotel, Mr Dandjinou said.

Thirty-three people were in hospital receiving treatment, he added.

French special forces and Burkinabe troops were involved in rescuing the hostages from the hotel, which is used by UN staff and Westerners, Mr Dandjinou said.

The total number of those who had lost their lives is not yet known, he added.

Hospital chief Robert Sangare quoted survivors as saying at least 20 people had died in the initial attack, before the security forces began their assault on the hotel.

Later, Interior Minister Simon Compaore said 10 bodies had been found on the terrace of the nearby Cappuccino cafe.

SITE said the al-Murabitoun group, which reportedly merged with AQIM recently, was involved in the attack.

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Witnesses said the gunmen had initially entered the Cappuccino cafe. One employee at the cafe told AFP news agency “several people” had been killed there.

Eyewitnesses reported hearing exchanges of gunfire between the men and security forces, as well as sporadic gunfire from inside the hotel, which is close to the country’s international airport.

The SITE monitoring group, which analyses jihadist networks, reports that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has said it was behind the attack.

The monitoring group specifically stated that those responsible were the al-Murabitoun group, which is based in the Sahara desert in northern Mali and contains fighters loyal to the veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Last month, the group announced it had merged with AQIM. Belmokhtar, a one-eyed commander who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, was once a member of AQIM but left after a falling-out with its leadership.

Belmokhtar has been declared dead many times, the latest by a US air strike on 14 June last year in Libya – according to Libyan authorities – but his death has not been formally confirmed.

AQIM and al-Murabitoun said they were behind an attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso’s neighbour Mali in November, that left 20 people dead.

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Burkina Faso had recently held its first presidential election since a coup earlier last year.

That coup toppled long-time leader Blaise Compaore, who had governed for 27 years.

“We are still in a context of political fragility, so I think the timing of this attack is meaningful,” Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, told the BBC from Ouagadougou.

“The country has long borders with Mali and Niger, and we know there are armed groups present on the border, so this was probably something we had coming.”

Source: BBC

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