Elite security forces in Burkina Faso have stormed an upscale hotel frequented by foreigners in the capital where suspected Islamist militants are holding hostages.
The raid began about five hours after gunmen attacked the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou late Friday. A fire was seen blazing in the lobby of the hotel after the raid began.
It was not immediately known how many people might have been killed during the siege, but initial reports said 20 people were dead and another 15 were wounded.
«It is continuing at this time. We are trying to know how many attackers they are to better coordinate our actions. Hostages have been taken. The operation could take several hours,» the officer said, asking not to be named.
The local al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM claimed responsibility as the attack was ongoing, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity.
A U.S. defense official said AFRICOM, the U.S. military command center for Africa, was monitoring the situation, and that all U.S. defense personnel were accounted for, contradicting some reports that U.S. military personnel were sheltering in the hotel.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. «strongly condemns the attack,» and the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou «is making every effort to account for U.S. citizens in the city.
Burkina Faso has endured bouts of political turmoil since October 2014 when President Blaise Compaore was overthrown in a popular uprising. Last September, members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso’s November election ushered in new leaders.
However, Islamist militants have carried out attacks at similar hotels in neighboring Mali, including one on the Radisson Blu hotel in November that left 20 people dead.
VOA’s Carla Babb and Pam Dockins and the VOA Africa service contributed to this report