Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré said Saturday that 23 people were killed when an Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group seized an upscale hotel in the capital of Ouagadougou.
Internal Affairs Minister Simon Compaore announced the siege was over and that 126 hostages had been freed and three jihadist gunmen were killed as forces regained control of the Splendid Hotel. He said at least 10 bodies were discovered in the Cappuccino Café, located next to the hotel.
Kaboré later said a fourth gunman had been killed and that two of the extremists were women.
Al Qaeda of Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, claimed responsibility for the attacks Friday, according to SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activity.
In a message posted in Arabic on the militants’ “Muslim Africa” Telegram account, it said fighters had “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.” Fighters who spoke by phone later “asserted the fall of many dead Crusaders,” AQIM said, according to SITE.
The Associated Press reported that gunfire was exchanged well into Saturday. French forces arrived in Ouagadougou from neighboring Mali to aid the effort. Burkinabe soldiers already had stormed the building, at one point briefly setting part of the building ablaze with their explosives.
Cars in front of the hotel also had been set on fire by the attackers, who stormed the bustling area downtown Friday evening.
A Defense official told Fox News Friday the Pentagon was closely following the incident and that all Defense officials were accounted for.
“We have about 75 U.S. military personnel in Burkina Faso,” the official said, “We currently know of 1 U.S. military member who is embedded with French forces providing advice and assistance to French forces at the hotel.”
Witness Vital Nounagnon told the AP that he saw four men wearing turbans attack the hotel and neighboring Cappuccino Cafe about 7:30 p.m. Another witness who gave only his first name, Gilbert, said that when Burkinabe security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.
“But we know that the gunmen won’t get out of the hotel alive,” he said. “Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong.”
Burkina Faso is largely a Muslim country and has for years been spared from the violence carried out by Islamic extremist groups who were abducting foreigners for ransom in Mali and Niger. Then, last April, a Romanian national was kidnapped in an attack that was the first of its kind in the country.
The country also has been in growing political turmoil since its longtime president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014. Last September members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted only about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso’s November election ushered in new leaders.
Friday’s violence mirrored a devastating attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in neighboring Mali back in November that left 20 people dead. In that case, Malian troops — backed by French and American special forces — swarmed in to retake the building and free terrified guests and hotel staff during a siege that lasted more than seven hours.
The Bamako hotel attack also was claimed by a leader of AQIM, who said it had been carried out as a declaration of unity with Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar’s extremist group Al-Mourabitoun, according to an audio speech that was distributed by SITE at the time. Belmoktar was a former leader in AQIM before starting his own group, which now has merged back with Al Qaeda.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.