Burkina Faso attack: Troops battle to end deadly hotel siege

Media caption, Fires can be seen and explosions heard near the Splendid hotel in Ouagadougou

Exchanges of fire are continuing at a hotel in Burkina Faso's capital as special forces seek to break a deadly siege by suspected Islamist gunmen.

Some 30 hostages were freed overnight at Ouagadougou's luxury Splendid Hotel but there are fears that at least 20 people were killed.

Gunmen stormed the hotel and a nearby cafe after setting off bombs.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has said it carried out the attack in the West African nation, monitors said.

French President Francois Hollande - whose forces are part of the operation against the militants - condemned the "odious and cowardly attack".

Remi Dandjinou, the Burkinabe communications minister, told the BBC there were between six and seven gunmen and they had been staying at the hotel.

He also said a member of the government, Minister of Public Works Clement Sawadogo, was among those freed at the hotel.

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

Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption, Burkinabe troops are involved in the operation to secure the hotel
Image source, Reuters
Image caption, French and US troops are also taking part

French special forces and Burkinabe troops have been deployed at the hotel, which is used by UN staff and Westerners.

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.

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

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

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption, French officers have also helped tend to the wounded

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.

Who is the group responsible?

Image source, AP
Image caption, Twenty people died in an attack by al-Murabitoun and al-Qaeda on a Mali hotel in November

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.

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."

In November, an AQIM attack on a hotel in the Malian capital Bamako left 19 people dead.

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