At least 10 bodies were found in a cafe that was attacked by Al Qaeda fighters as part of their assault on the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital, a government minister told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Internal Affairs Minister Simon Compaore said the bodies were found inside the Cappuccino Cafe, a restaurant next to the luxury hotel. Witnesses said that burning cars could be seen in front of the cafe when it was attacked on Friday.
The identities and nationalities of the victims were not clear.
It is unclear how many people are still inside the Splendid Hotel, but 63 have been freed, according to Rémis Dandjinou, Burkina Faso’s minister of communication. He said 33 of them were wounded.
According to hospital officials in Ouagadougou, more than 20 people have died in the attack.
Intense gunfire was continuing outside the hotel.
French and Burkinabe security forces were engaged in an operation to retake the hotel in the early hours of Saturday morning. It remained unclear how many people had been taken hostage or killed when the fighters attacked the 147-room hotel on Friday evening.
A French television network reported that at least 20 people had been killed in the attack on the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou.
The network, France 24, interviewed two survivors, both of whom declined to give their names. One, a woman whose eyes were wide with shock as she spoke, said the hostage-takers had shot a man in front of her.
“There was someone in front of me and they shot him and he fell onto me,” she said, her face covered in soot.
Another survivor told the network that his memories of the hotel’s interior were dominated by images of smoke and blood. He said he had only survived by escaping through a broken window.
“People were lying on the ground and there was blood everywhere,” he said. “They were shooting people at point-blank range. When they left they set fire to the place and the smoke started to suffocate me and the other survivors.”
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said it had targeted the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou because it was known to be popular with foreigners, saying it had sent a message “written by the heroes of Islam with their blood and body parts.”
The statement was directed at a foreign audience, which it addressed as “the Cross-worshipers, the occupiers of our lands, the looters of our wealth and the abusers of our security.”
It said that fighters from Al Mourabitoun, a jihadist group led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and aligned with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, struck the hotel because it “is frequented by staff of the nations of global disbelief.”
The statement said the attack was intended “to punish the Cross-worshipers for their crimes against our people in Central Africa, Mali and other lands of the Muslims, and to avenge our Prophet, God’s peace and blessings be upon him.”
In Washington, a Defense Department official said that France had requested “immediate” surveillance and reconnaissance help in Burkina Faso and that the American military is “working to provide that.”
There is one American military member embedded with French forces, the official said, who is “providing advice and assistance to French forces in the hotel.”
There are around 75 American military personnel in Burkina Faso, including 15 assigned to the United States Embassy, and 60 more who provide security training, advice and assistance to the French military there, the official said.
The U.S. has given green cards to at least 3,000 from Burkina Faso in recent years, most of them are likely Muslims.
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