Commandos stormed the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso's capital, some five hours after al Qaeda-linked militants started an attack there. At least 20 people have been killed and over a dozen more wounded.
Witnesses in central Ouagadougou said early on Saturday that a fire had broken out at the up-market hotel after commandos, attempting to free an unknown number of hostages, used explosives to enter the building. The blaze spread both in and outside the building.
According to a US defense official, at least one US military member in Burkina Faso was giving "advice and assistance" to French forces at the site of the attack.
Gunfire erupted late Friday after gunmen stormed Splendid Hotel, burning cars and firing in the air to drive back crowds.
Security forces arrived shortly after, prompting an intense exchange of gunfire in the capital's business district.
"We know that there are victims and there are hostages," Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Alpha Barry told the AFP news agency.
Islamists claim responsibility
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said they were behind the attack. The "mujahideen brothers" of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb "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 quoted an Arabic-language AQIM message as saying.
Along with two other groups, the ultra hardline militants also claimed responsibility for November's attack on a Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako. Twenty people died in the raid, including 14 foreigners.
France's ambassador to Burkina Faso, Gilles Thibault, confirmed on Twitter late on Friday that a curfew had been implemented in Ouagadougou from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. on Saturday. According to Ministry data, more than 3,500 French nationals live in Burkina Faso, a former French colony.
Since Burkina Faso's veteran President Blaise Compaore was overthrown in a popular protest in October 2014, the largely Muslim country has endured bouts of political turmoil, but has been largely spared violence by Islamist militants.
ksb/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)