18 dead, others trapped, after gunmen attack Burkina Faso restaurant popular with foreigners

Government troops have surrounded the restaurant where suspected jihadists are believed to be holed up

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 1:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 1:23am

Suspected jihadists killed at least 18 people and wounded eight during a raid on a restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital, the communications minister said, as security forces sought to free people still trapped inside on Monday.

“This is a terrorist attack,” Communications Minister Remi Dandjinou told a news conference on Monday.

A witness saw customers running out of the Aziz Istanbul Turkish restaurant in central Ouagadougou as police and paramilitary gendarmerie surrounded it amid gunfire. The restaurant is popular with foreigners, and the victims included people of several different nationalities, said Communications Minister Remi Dandjinou.

Among the dead was at least one French national, he said. Medical sources said a Turkish national also died.

“This is a terrorist attack,” Dandjinou told a news conference. He said the toll was provisional because the security operation was still underway.

Burkina Faso security forces had killed three of the suspected jihadists but there were still people trapped inside the building, he said later on state television.

“They are confined to one part of the building they attacked. Security and elite forces are conducting an operation,” Dandjinou said.

A woman said she was in the restaurant celebrating her brother’s birthday when the shooting started.

“I just ran but my brother was left inside,” the woman said as she fled the building.

Police Captain Guy Ye said three or four assailants had arrived at the Aziz Istanbul on motorcycles, and then began shooting randomly at the crowds dining Sunday evening.

Security forces arrived at the scene in armoured vehicles which opened fire on the militants.

A paramedic said one of the victims was a Turkish national.

“We evacuated 11 people but one of them, a Turk, died on arriving at hospital,” the paramedic said, declining to be named.

Police evacuated civilians from the area before launching the counter-assault, with the heavy exchange of fire becoming more sporadic as the operation went on into the early hours of Monday morning.

One soldier said there were hostages on the first and second floor of the two-storey building housing the Turkish restaurant. The mayor of Ouagadougou and government ministers were at the scene, he added.

Video footage posted on Twitter shows people fleeing, as shouting and gunshots are heard. Armed officers in uniform are then seen walking towards the attack site.

The local French embassy in Burkina Faso is in contact with local authorities regarding the attack on a restaurant and French citizens are advised to avoid the area, the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Our embassy is being kept informed of the situation due to permanent contact with local authorities,” the foreign ministry said in the statement.

Burkina Faso, like other countries in West Africa, has been targeted sporadically by jihadist groups operating across Africa’s Sahel. Most attacks have been along its remote northern border region with Mali, which has seen attacks by Islamist militants for more than a decade.

Thirty people were killed when gunmen attacked a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou in January 2016 in an incident claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

AQIM and related jihadi groups were largely confined to the Sahara desert until they hijacked a Tuareg rebellion in Mali in 2012 and swept south. French forces intervened to prevent them taking Mali’s capital, Bamako, the following year, but they have since gradually expanded their reach, launching high-profile attacks on Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

A new al Qaeda-linked alliance of Malian jihadist groups claimed an attack in June that killed at least five people at a luxury Mali resort popular with Western expatriates just outside Bamako.

African nations launched a new multinational military force to tackle Islamist militants in the Sahel last month, but it won’t be operational until later this year and faces a budget shortfall.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press