16 assailants, troops killed in Burkina Faso attack: Government source

Smoke rises from the site of an armed attack in downtown Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on March 2, 2018. (Reuters)

Sixteen people -- nine assailants and seven members of the security forces -- were killed in the capital of Burkina Faso on Friday when armed men attacked the French embassy and the country’s military headquarters, a government source said.

The bloodiest clashes in Ouagadougou were in the assault on the armed forces’ HQ, where five attackers and five members of the security forces died, the official said.

The army’s medical chief, Colonel Amado Kafando, said 75 people were being treated for wounds, giving a still-incomplete toll.

In contrast, three security sources reached from Paris -- two in France and one in West Africa -- have sketched a higher death toll, saying at least 28 people died in the attack on the military HQ alone.

“Four attackers were neutralized in the attack on the French embassy,” the government in a statement posted on its Information Service website.

A parallel attack targeting the headquarters of the Burkinabe armed forces left two dead, Information Minister Remis Fulgance Dandjinou told the state TV channel RTB.

“A certain number of gendarmes and soldiers”were wounded, but there were no known casualties among civilians, he said.

The attack “has strong overtones of terrorism,” the minister said.

In Paris, a French diplomatic source said there had been no French casualties.

Early Friday, gunfire and explosions rocked Burkina Faso’s capital  in what the police said was a suspected attack by Islamic militants.

By midday the gunfire became intermittent and helicopters flew over the French Embassy in Ouagadougou. Witnesses at the national television office which faces the French Embassy told The Associated Press that five people came in a pick-up truck in front of the embassy and started shooting after saying “Allahu Akhbar.” They then set fire to the truck and began shooting.

Heavy smoke rose from the army joint chief of staff’s office in Ouagadougou, and witnesses said loud explosions were still heard around the military headquarters in the western part of the capital’s city center and far from the other area under attack that houses the embassies, the prime minister’s office and United Nations offices.

Burkina Faso’s police director general Jean Bosco Kienou told AP “the form is that of a terrorist attack.”

Plumes of black smoke could be seen above the army offices in western Ouagadougou where police and gendarmerie responded. Barricades were erected to keep people from all areas under assault.

Burkina Faso’s police said the defense and security forces are responding to attacks around the Prime Minister’s office and the United Nations.

France’s foreign affairs ministry published a message on their website warning of gunfire in the capital, and said that security forces are now intervening and enhanced security measures could be taken by authorities. It recommended people stay off the streets and remain in a safe place.

Ouagadougou has been attacked by Islamic militants targeting foreigners at least twice in the past few years. 

Two earlier attacks 

In August, extremists opened fire as patrons dined on a Sunday night at the Aziz Istanbul restaurant, killing at least 18 people. In January 2016, Islamic militants attacked another cafe popular with foreigners in the capital, killing 30 people.

Both times security forces have struggled to contain the violence, waiting for hours before intervening at the scene.

Islamic militant threats also moved into new parts of Burkina Faso earlier this month with an attack by 10 people in an eastern town that killed an officer and wounded two others. Increased attacks staged at the border with Mali have forced thousands to flee over the past year. An Australian doctor who had spent decades treating civilians was also abducted along this border and remains missing.

The region is also now the home of a Burkina Faso militant  figure, Malam Dicko, who has collaborated with militants across the border in Mali. Among his objectives has been seeking to end the use of French, the former colonizer’s language, in regional schools. Burkinabe forces backed by French military counterparts have tried to capture Dicko but he remains at large.

Last Update: Friday, 2 March 2018 KSA 21:53 - GMT 18:53

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