OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, A group of masked gunmen on Friday set fire to vehicles and started shooting at a four-star hotel in the west African nation of Burkina Faso — an establishment that frequently accommodates U.N. staffers and U.S. military personnel, officials said.
Witnesses said multiple vehicles parked near the Splendid Hotel were set on fire by the assailants before they entered the building, which is located in the business district of the capital of Ouagadougou, at about 7:30 p.m. local time Friday.
Security forces exchanged gunfire with the attackers, which witnesses said numbered between three and six. Multiple corpses could be seen at the scene of the violence, witnesses added, and an untold number of people were wounded.
“Once in a while we can hear shooting. For the moment, we have no more details on the identity of the shooters, except for the fact that one witness affirmed that one of the assailants proclaimed the name of God — the name of Allah,” Tahirou Barry, Burkina Faso’s minister of culture, said.
Gunfire could be heard on video footage posted to YouTube by the Burkina24 news agency.
“We are closely following the situation downtown,” the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou tweeted Friday afternoon.
The gunmen also may have taken multiple hostages inside the hotel, the New York Times reported.
The Splendid Hotel frequently accommodates staffers of the United Nations and other Westerners, various news reports said.
Some U.S. military personnel also were at the hotel, but the U.S. Department of Defense said Friday all had been accounted for.
Terror group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb took responsibility for Friday’s assault, according to the SITE intelligence group.
“There are many hostages from many nationalities in the hotel,” Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Alpha Barry told the France24 news agency, who added the event is similar to “a terrorist attack and jihadists.”
Friday’s was the second attack of the day in Burkina Faso. Earlier, armed men attacked a police post in the village of Tin Abao — killing one and wounding two others. A civilian was also killed.
Burkina Faso, a nation of more than 17 million, has largely been immune to terrorist attacks in recent years, although neighbors Mali and Niger have regularly been targeted. Last year, a Romanian citizen was abducted in Burkina Faso by a group sympathetic to the Isis.
Two months ago, 20 people were killed in a similar terror strike on a luxury hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako.
A failed coup occurred in Burkina Faso in September and a newly-elected regime took office just two weeks ago.
The country — which declared independence from France in 1960 as the Republic of Upper Volta — has experienced terse political instability for years. The nation formally became known as Burkina Faso in 1984.
By Doug G. Ware