At least 23 people, including 18 Westerners, were killed when four attackers from al-Qaeda’s West African affiliate launched an assault on a hotel and a café in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso all night on Friday.
Survivors who escaped Hotel Splendid and nearby Café Cappuccino told how the assailants struck just after 8.30pm as crowds gathered for Friday night activities, firing into the air and chanting “Allahu Akhbar” before starting to kill people.
“We had to act dead for more than one hour as terrorists checked and killed anyone found to be alive, to escape being killed” diners at the Cappuccino café explained.
“They kept coming back. You’d think it was over, and then they’d come back and shoot more people. They would come back and see if the white people were moving and then they would shoot them again,” a Slovenian social anthropologist told Reuters.
In addition to the four jihadists, at no fewer than 23 people were killed in the attack at the Splendid Hotel and a nearby cafe in Ouagadougou, the capital, the president said.
They crossed over to the four-star Splendid Hotel, popular with Western aid workers and French soldiers stationed locally, and started spraying more bullets into the building before finally torching the building and nearby parked cars.
Six Canadians were killed in the attack according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday: “Canada strongly condemns the deadly terrorist attacks that took place in Ouagadougou.”
A shoe shine boy who worked at the hotel entrance and a street hawker who had been selling cigarettes were later found among the dead.
Mike Riddering, an American missionary from Florida was among the 23 people killed in the Burkina Faso terrorist attack.
Mike’s death was confirmed by his wife, Amy Riddering, on her Facebook page.
She wrote: “Heaven has gained a warrior! I know God has a purpose in all things but sometimes it is a complete mystery to me. My best friend, partner in crime and love of my life. The best husband ever. An amazing father to his children and a papa to everyone. My heart is so heavy and I am having trouble believing he is gone. Mike was an example in the way he lived and loved. God be glorified! Mike Riddering I will love you always! You left quite a legacy here. I can only imagine the adventures you are having now.”
One man described the militants as appearing to be little more than “children” who struggled under the weight of their heavy assault rifles.
Another woman said they appeared to be “Tuaregs”, a reference to the Berber pastoralists who mainly live in Niger and northern Mali and whose separatist struggle was hijacked by Islamic extremists that took over the region in 2012, prompting an international military campaign to oust them.
Responsibility for the assault was claimed by an al-Qaeda affiliated group run by one of the world’s most wanted men, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, known as the One-Eyed Sheikh of the Sahara.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said in a statement, the Splendid Hotel assault was “revenge against France and the disbelieving West”, designed to “punish the Cross-worshipers for their crimes against our people in Central Africa, Mali and other lands of the Muslims”.
Its message, it added, had been “written by the heroes of Islam with their blood and body parts”.
Eyewitnesses watching in horror from nearby buildings described “a complete bloodbath” which progressed into Saturday morning as local security forces and French and American commandos sought to take back control, hampered by booby traps the militants left in their wake.
Three terrorists died at the first hotel, the Burkinabe authorities said, and a fourth was chased into the nearby Hotel Yibi which became the subject of a second security alert as dawn broke before they too were neutralised.
Simon Compaore, Burkina Faso’s interior minister, said people from as many 18 different countries were among the dead and that a total of 126 people had been freed, including 33 who were wounded and Burkina Faso’s Labour Minister.
Gilles Thibault, the French Ambassador, put the death toll at 27 a figure that local hospital authorities said had increased to 29 last night after two more victims succumbed to their injuries.
Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, had for years been spared from the violence carried out by Islamic extremist groups who were abducting foreigners for ransom in Mali and Niger.
Burkina’s security ministry revealed that around the same time as the hotel attack, an Australian doctor and his wife who had been doing aid work in the north of the country near the border with Mali had been kidnapped, although it was unclear if the two incidents were linked.
The attacks were condemned around the world, coming just weeks after a near-identical attack in the capital of neighbouring Mali in November where 22 people were killed after Islamist gunmen opened fire on the Radisson Blu hotel.
The US-based terror monitoring group SITE said the attackers were members of Belmokhtar’s Al-Murabitoun group which is based in Mali, indicating his organisation and AQIM had healed an earlier rift and were now working together again.
Roch Marc Kabore, Burkina Faso’s president, said his country was experiencing something “unprecedented”.” These are vile, cowardly acts and the victims are innocent people,” said Mr Kabore.
“We call upon the Burkinabe people to be vigilant and courageous because we must include terrorist acts as an integral part of our daily struggle,” he added.