Four Al-Qaeda militants have been killed after Burkina Faso and French forces stormed a luxury hotel on Saturday, freeing more than 126 hostages.
In addition to the extremists, at least 23 people were killed after popular tourist spots Splendid Hotel and a nearby cafe in Ouagadougou were targeted on Friday, the Associated Press reports.
Three attackers - two of whom were female - were killed at the hotel and a fourth was killed when security forces cleared out a second hotel nearby.
Burkina Faso and French forces outside Splendid Hotel on Saturday morning
There were 27 people, belonging to 18 nationalities, who were killed during the attack. The death toll could still rise, the country's security minister said.
Simon Compaore told AFP security forces were still searching for casualties. “We don’t yet have a total tally of the dead. The Burkinabe forces are still combing the hotel,” he said.
The local al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM claimed responsibility online as the attack was ongoing in downtown Ouagadougou at the 147-room Splendid Hotel, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
In a message posted in Arabic on the militants' "Muslim Africa" Telegram account, it said fighters had "broke into a restaurant of one of the biggest hotels in the capital of Burkina Faso, and are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion."
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Military forces fought to take back the building on Saturday morning, which had been blackened by a fire during the assault.
The security forces took control of the Splendid Hotel and were searching nearby hotels to be sure no other extremists were hiding. The search continued even after security forces found and killed a fourth extremist at the Hotel Yibi, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said.
About 33 people were wounded and 126 people were freed after the morning call to prayer signaled a new day in this West African nation, said Minister of Security and Internal Affairs Simon Compaore.
Cars and motorbikes were burned, and overturned chairs and shards of glass lay scattered near the hotel. Onlookers were kept far away from the fighting that continued into daylight.
The harrowing attack was launched by the same extremists behind a similar siege at an upscale hotel in Bamako, Mali in November that left 20 dead.
Special police forces are seen during search operations following an attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen
Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighboring Mali to aid in the rescue.
One US military member was embedded with French forces at the scene, and the United States was working to help provide France with surveillance and reconnaissance help, according to a US senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly.
Witness Vital Nounagnon told the AP that he saw four men attack the hotel and neighboring Cappuccino Cafe about 7:30 p.m.
A witness who gave only his first name, Gilbert, said that when Burkinabe security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.
"But we know that the gunmen won't get out of the hotel alive," he said. "Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong."
Ten bodies were found inside the cafe, said Burkina Faso's Internal Affairs Minister Simon Compaore.
Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, has been in turmoil since its longtime president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014. Last September members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted only about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso's November election ushered in new leaders.
Friday's violence mirrored a devastating attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in neighboring Mali back in November that left 20 people dead. In that case, Malian troops — backed by French and American special forces — swarmed in to retake the building and free terrified guests and hotel staff during a siege that lasted more than seven hours.
The country also has been in growing political turmoil since its longtime president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014.
In a separate development, an Austrian doctor and his wife were kidnapped Friday night by extremists in Burkina Faso's north near its border with Mali, Abi Ouattara, security ministry spokeswoman, said Saturday.
The ministry did not have immediate information on how long the two Austrians had been in northern Burkina Faso, where they were doing volunteer work. Jihadis took the two from the town of Baraboule in the Soum province in Burkina Faso's Sahel region, Ouattara said.
There was no immediate confirmation of the kidnapping from Austria's Foreign Ministry. "We are trying to look into the matter as quickly as possible," spokesman Thomas Schnoell told the Austria Press Agency.
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