Gunmen stormed an upscale cafe overnight in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, strafing the building with bullets and barricading themselves inside for hours. By the time security forces reclaimed the restaurant around dawn Monday, at least 18 people had been killed and eight others wounded, according to local authorities.
The West African nation’s communications minister, Remis Dandjinou, told reporters Monday that by daybreak, two of the attackers had been killed and several foreign nationals were among the dead. In separate statements, officials in Paris and Ankara confirmed the victims include a French citizen and Turkish citizen, while another Turk was injured in the violence.
While Burkinabe officials blamed Islamist militants for the attack on the Turkish cafe, no one group immediately claimed responsibility.
“I salute the bravery of our security and defense forces whose engagement allowed us to neutralize the terrorists,” Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said in a statement, as translated by CNN.
“The struggle against terrorism is a lengthy fight,” he added. “That is why I am calling for vigilance, solidarity and unity of the whole nation to face up to the cowardice of our enemies.”
In a news conference Monday, Dandjinou detailed the night’s bloody events, which opened when he says about three to four militants rolled up to the cafe on motorcycles around 9 p.m. local time. They opened fire on an outside seating area outside then moved indoors, where The New York Times notes a family had been celebrating a 9-year-old boy’s birthday.
The newspaper reports the boy was hospitalized with injuries from the attack.
For Burkinabes, the attack on Aziz Istanbul cafe, which is popular with foreigners, prompts bitter memories of another bloody episode just over 18 months ago. In January last year, militants conducted an hours-long raid on a luxury hotel and a cafe just blocks away from Aziz Istanbul, ultimately killing some 30 people before being dislodged by security forces.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a militant group based in the region, claimed responsibility for that attack — as well as another deadly assault just months before in neighboring Mali.
Islamist groups have been active for years in the Sahel region, which includes Mali and Burkina Faso. As groups linked to al-Qaida have carried out attacks in the area, the Times points out that the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Mali “has become one of the most dangerous in the world.”
The French government — which controlled Burkina Faso, then called Upper Volta, as a colony until 1960 — says President Emmanuel Macron met with Kabore on Monday to discuss the circumstances of the latest attack.
The pair of leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to the formation of an international security force in the Sahel region to “continue the fight against terrorist groups.”