The Cable

Burkina Faso Attackers Killed As Troops Storm Hotel

The latest in a string of attacks by the Islamist group in Africa leaves dozens killed and wounded

Special police forces are seen during search operations following an attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou. 
Security forces in Burkina Faso on January 16 completed a counter-offensive against jihadist assailants who stormed a top hotel and a restaurant in the capital hours earlier, a security source said. The source said security forces were continuing search operations in the area around the Splendid hotel and nearby Cappuccino restaurant, which were attacked by the Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen late on January 15, killing at least 23 people. / AFP / AHMED OUOBA        (Photo credit should read AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Special police forces are seen during search operations following an attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou. Security forces in Burkina Faso on January 16 completed a counter-offensive against jihadist assailants who stormed a top hotel and a restaurant in the capital hours earlier, a security source said. The source said security forces were continuing search operations in the area around the Splendid hotel and nearby Cappuccino restaurant, which were attacked by the Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen late on January 15, killing at least 23 people. / AFP / AHMED OUOBA (Photo credit should read AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images)

French and local security forces seized control of a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital early Saturday after killing four al Qaeda-linked attackers who rampaged through the tourist destination on Friday, slaughtering at least 23 people. More than 120 people were freed on Saturday after the militants were killed.

Authorities said the attack on the Splendid Hotel and the nearby Cappuccino Cafe, long popular among foreigners and United Nations staffers, was the latest offensive by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. The group also claimed credit for an attack at the Radisson Blue hotel in Bamako, Mali, last November that killed 21.

Friday’s violence came the same day a group of al Qaeda-linked fighters from al-Shabab stormed an African Union base in northern Somalia, killing dozens of Kenyan soldiers. The attacks on opposite ends of the continent against vastly different targets points to the continuing relevance of al Qaeda, years after some U.S. officials declared the group’s influence has severely dwindled.

The assault on the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou was reportedly carried out by four militants, two of whom were women, according to local officials. The attackers used small arms to carry out the attack, and so far there has been no indication that bombs or suicide vests were used.

“They started to shoot at everyone. We dropped to the ground and as soon as anyone raised their heads they fired at them immediately. We had to play dead,” one French survivor told the Associated Press. “They shook people by the foot to see if they were alive or not, and, if they were alive, they shot them.”

“Everyone was panicked and was lying down on the floor. There was blood everywhere, they were shooting at people at point blank,” Yannick Sawadogo, another survivor, told CNN. “We could hear them talking, and they were walking around and kept shooting at people who seemed alive,” he said.

The plague of Islamist militancy has mostly spared this small West African nation in recent years. Boko Haram, which has terrorized civilians and battled government forces for years in Nigeria and neighboring Niger, has not crossed the border into Burkina Faso. But in another incident on Friday, an Austrian doctor and his wife reportedly were abducted in the country’s north, near the country’s borders with Niger and Mali.

Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore called the situation “unprecedented.”

“These are vile, cowardly acts and the victims are innocent people,” he said in a Saturday visit to the hotel.

 

Photo Credit: AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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