Attackers raided a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso overnight, shooting some and taking others hostage in a siege that lasted hours and ended with 29 people dead.
An al Qaeda-linked terrorist group claimed responsibility for the assault at Splendid Hotel — a popular meeting place for Western diplomats in the capital, Ouagadougou.
The attack began Friday night and dragged on under the cover of darkness. Security forces circled the perimeter to assess the situation before they stormed in hours later.
“Everyone was panicked and was lying down on the floor. There was blood everywhere, they were shooting at people at point blank,” said Yannick Sawadogo, who survived the siege.
Security forces entered the hotel early Saturday and freed 126 hostages, half of whom were hospitalized, according to Burkina Faso’s foreign minister, Alpha Barry.
Of the 29 people who died, 22 have been identified, Ouagadougou prosecutor Maïza Sereme said, according to state broadcaster RTB.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore told the nation more than 50 people were wounded. The injured included two Burkinabe police officers, one soldier and one service member from France.
It was unclear whether the death toll included the three attackers that Kabore said were killed.
‘We could hear them talking’
Survivors described horrific scenes as the attackers paced and fired in the hotel Friday night.
“We could hear them talking and they were walking around and kept shooting at people who seemed alive,” Sawadogo told CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Sawadogo said he escaped through a broken window, and could barely see because of smoke.
The West African nation’s forces received logistical support from American and French troops. Shortly after the forces stormed the hotel, the sounds of gunshots faded.
Hotel popular with diplomats
The assault appeared well-planned, with some of the attackers coming to the hotel during the day and mingling with guests, authorities said. When darkness fell, more attackers joined them.
Before the hotel assault, they attacked the Cappuccino café across the street, which had about 100 people, according to the state broadcaster.
They then took off to the Splendid Hotel, where they seized hostages.
Witnesses said the attackers wore turbans and spoke a language not native to Burkina Faso, a former French colony.
Victims included 9-year-old
Two French nationals were among the dead, BFMTV reported. Canada said six of its citizens were killed.
Four of the dead came from the same Ukrainian family and included a 9-year-old girl. Two of the deceased were from Switzerland, that nation’s Foreign Ministry said.
The United States said one American died.
“We extend our condolences to the family of Michael James Riddering. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time, as they are with all those affected by this brutality,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
Other victims included seven Burkinabe, four Canadians, two Swiss, one Dutch, one Libyan and one Portuguese, Sereme said, according to RTB.
Al Qaeda group claims responsibility
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the assault, local media reported. CNN could not independently confirm that claim.
Al Qaeda-linked Al-Mourabitoun said it conducted the attack, which had similarities to the one in neighboring Mali in November.
Al-Mourabitoun had claimed responsibility for the November attack at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali, which left 22 people dead.
The group’s leader is veteran al Qaeda figure Mokhtar Belmokhtar, according to the Mauritania-based Al Akhbar news agency.
In June, Libya’s interim government reported that he died in an American airstrike.
‘Odious and cowardly attack’
The attack comes a few months after Burkina Faso marked a turning point following a historic presidential election.
Burkina Faso elected a new president in November after nearly three decades of autocratic rule followed by a civil uprising.
Kabore, the nation’s former prime minister, won more than 53% of votes in that election.
Elections were postponed the month before because of a failed coup against the transitional government.
The West, particularly France, considers Burkina Faso a key ally in the fight against al Qaeda.
French President Francois Hollande said he stands with the nation against the “odious and cowardly attack.”
The U.S. Embassy condemned the attack, describing it as a ” senseless assault on innocent people.”
Abductors have seized two Australian doctors, who are married, Kabore said.
The couple was taken in the town of Djibo near the border with Mali early Saturday. They worked in a clinic there.
Australian authorities did not immediately comment on the kidnapping.