At least 20 people died and others were taken hostage when Islamist gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital city of Burkina Faso on Friday, a hospital director said, an attack for which al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility.

Security forces began an assault to reclaim the Splendid Hotel in the early hours of Saturday and entered its lobby, part of which was on fire, a Reuters witness said. The hotel is frequented by Westerners, which may have made it a target for the militants.

A general view shows fire beneath Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Image credit: Reuters

About 30 hostages including the labour minister were freed from the hotel, said Minister of Communications Remis Dandjinou. No one has said publicly how many hostages might be in the hotel.

  • It was the first time militants have carried out an assault in the capital of Burkina Faso and comes as a setback to efforts by African governments, France and the United States to prevent attacks that have destabilised the region.
  • It follows a raid on a luxury hotel in Mali last November in which two attackers killed 20 people, including citizens of Russia, China and the United States.
  • The assault began around 8.30 p.m. local time, and the attackers torched cars and fired in the air to drive people back from the building. There was an intense gun battle followed by at least an hour of relative quiet, in part as security forces prepared their bid to recapture the hotel.
  • Patients saw around 20 bodies, and one European woman being treated at the hospital said the attackers appeared to target Westerners
  • The hotel is sometimes used by French troops with Operation Barkhane, a force based in Chad and set up to combat Islamist militants across West Africa's vast, arid Sahel region.