Heavily-armed gunmen launched coordinated assaults on three army barracks in the Burundian capital Bujumbura on Friday. A fresh clampdown by the government on opposition elements is expected.
The attacks began shortly before 4 a.m. local time. Army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Baratuza said the targets included the logistics brigade and a military academy. He said 12 assailants were killed while 21 were captured, one of whom was seriously injured and was undergoing medical treatment at a military hospital.
Colonel Baratuza said military equipment and large quantities of ammunition had been seized but were recovered by the military. The attackers had intended to use the weapons to free inmates from prison.
Writing on Twitter, government spokesman Willy Nyamitwe denied the attacks had been an attempted coup.
Army on high alert
DW correspondent in Bujumbura Apollinaire Niyirora said it was one of the biggest attacks since April when political turmoil broke out in the East African country after President Nkurunziza launched his bid to stay in power for a third term. This was widely considered to be unconstitutional and sparked a failed military coup. Nkurunziza went on to win in July.
Niyirora said the army had appeared to be prepared for some kind of incident as tension had noticeably increased in Bujumbura the day before.
However, a Friday meeting of the council of ministers stuck to the original agenda and discussed the 2016 draft budget. Meanwhile, by early afternoon on Friday, fighting was still being reported in some neighborhoods although the army spokesman said the situation was 'under total control.'
Clampdown on opposition expected
Describing the situation, DW's correspondent said "movement is not free, streets are still empty and business has pretty much come to a standstill." Airline companies including Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and Rwandair suspended their flights until further notice.
Nighttime gunfire has been common in Bujumbura in recent weeks and months. According to the UN, at least 240 people have lost their lives while more than 200,000 have left for neighboring countries.
Niyirora said the expectation was that the government would use the attacks as a pretext to clamp down on the opposition. Further arrests and harassment were likely, he said.
Prior to Friday's large-scale attacks, fears had been expressed by international observers that Burundi could be sliding into a civil war along ethnic lines. The UN, African Union and the European Union have all warned that political division threatens to create a deep and violent regional crisis in the East African state.