At least 33 people have been rescued from a hotel in Burkina Faso's capital after being taken hostage by Islamist militants. An al Qaeda-linked militant group claimed responsibility for the "revenge against France."
Burkina Faso's Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou said early on Saturday that dozens of hostages had been evacuated from the Splendid Hotel in the West African country's capital, Ouagadougou.
"There are some dead, but we don't have the numbers. The assault is ongoing, with the Burkinabe forces supported by French special forces," Dandjinou said. Labor Minister Clement Sawadogo was also reportedly among those rescued.
In a separate comment, the head of Ouagadougou main hospital said at least 20 people had died in the attack. The country's Interior Minister Simon Compaore reported seeing at least 10 bodies on the terrace of a restaurant opposite the hotel.
It was not yet clear how many people remained trapped.
Security forces launch assault
Gunfire first erupted when armed men opened fire at the Cappuccino restaurant, before storming the Splendid Hotel and burning cars.
Security forces arrived shortly after, prompting an intense exchange of gunfire in the capital's business district.
France's ambassador to Burkina Faso, Gilles Thibault, confirmed on Twitter that a curfew had been implemented in Ouagadougou from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. on Saturday.
A fire also broke out at the hotel after forces used explosives to enter the building in a bid to free the hostages. The blaze spread both in and outside the building.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said they were behind the attack, adding that it was "revenge against France and the disbelieving West." According to ministry data, more than 3,500 French nationals live in Burkina Faso, a former French colony.
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 that raid, including 14 foreigners.
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/se (Reuters, AFP, AP)