Burkina Faso’s capital hit by co-ordinated ‘terror’ attacks

Army headquarters and French embassy among the targets in Ouagadougou assault

Black smoke rises as the capital of Burkina Faso comes under multiple attacks. Photograph: Ahmed Ouoba/AFP/Getty Images

Black smoke rises as the capital of Burkina Faso comes under multiple attacks. Photograph: Ahmed Ouoba/AFP/Getty Images

 

Armed assailants attacked several targets in Burkina Faso’s capital on Friday, including the army headquarters and the French embassy, in a co-ordinated assault that France’s ambassador to the region called a terrorist attack.

It was the third major attack in Ouagadougou in just over two years. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but previous attacks were conducted by allies of al-Qaeda in reprisal for Burkina Faso’s participation in a regional fight against Islamist militants.

A Burkina Faso government statement said four gunmen were “neutralised” at the French embassy, adding that operations were continuing and there was no immediate information on civilian casualties.

The minister for defence said three assailants were killed at the army headquarters.

Witnesses said masked gunmen attacked the downtown army headquarters at about 10am local time. An explosion rocked the compound, setting the building on fire and sending up a thick column of black smoke.

“I saw people with sacks on their backs attack the guard. Then I heard the explosion. I saw soldiers flee the army headquarters building running,” a witness told Reuters.

Panicked residents fled the city centre on foot or motorbikes as dozens of Burkina Faso special forces and armoured vehicles took up positions in the area.

A Reuters reporter saw an ambulance entering the army compound.

“Burkinabe security forces are mobilised against the attackers with the support of security forces at our embassy,” said French minister for foreign affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian in a statement.

Symbolic targets

The French target is symbolic given that French president Emmanuel Macron chose to outline in November his Africa strategy, which includes the fight against Islamist militants, in Ouagadougou.

France’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, confirmed to Reuters that the embassy compound, about 2km from the army headquarters, came under attack, but gave no further details.

The embassy initially said on its Facebook page that an attack was under way at the embassy as well as at Ouagadougou’s French cultural institute. However, it later amended the message to say it was “not clear at this stage which sites are targeted”.

France’s embassy is no longer in danger, an aide to Mr le Drian said.

Police took up positions near the offices of the prime minister, where gunfire was also reported.

A Reuters reporter said gunfire had largely ceased by noon.

Jean-Marc Chataigner, France’s ambassador to West Africa’s Sahel region, tweeted: “Terrorist attack this morning in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: solidarity with colleagues and Burkinabe friends.” He urged people to avoid the city centre.

Islamist militants have stepped up attacks in major cities in West Africa the last few years, including deadly assaults in Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Niger.

Suspected jihadists killed at least 18 people last August during a raid on a restaurant in Ouagadougou, and militants have targeted Burkinabe security forces along its remote northern border region with Mali.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for an attack on a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou in January 2016 in which 30 people were killed.

Five countries – Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania – launched a new taskforce last year to tackle Islamist militants in the arid Sahel region, to which international donors have committed half a billion dollars. – Reuters