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 in the early hours of Saturday began an assault to reclaim the Splendid Hotel 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.
It is the first time militants carried out an assault in the capital of Burkina Faso and it comes as a setback to efforts by African governments, France and the United States to prevent attacks that have destabilized 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. There have been attacks by militants in other countries in West Africa in recent years and the vast majority of those killed have been Africans.
"We have received around 15 wounded people. There are people with bullet wounds and people who are injured because of falls," said Robert Sangare, director of Ouagadougou's university hospital center.
Sangare said one European woman being treated at the hospital told him the attackers appeared to target white people.
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.
A U.S. defense official said France, the former colonial power, had requested U.S. intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance support in the city, and at least one U.S. military member in Burkina Faso was giving "advice and assistance" to French forces at the hotel.
The government has not ruled out calling for help from French special forces stationed in the country, Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Alpha Barry told Reuters.