UPDATE 12:50 a.m. EST -- As many as 63 hostages, including 33 wounded, were evacuated in the early hours of Saturday from the besieged Burkina Faso hotel, Communication Minister Remis Dandjinou told AFP. The minister said the breakthrough in the ongoing gun battle came after 40 Burkina Faso soldiers, with the help of 30 French troops and an unknown number of American troops, launched an assault to rescue hostages.
UPDATE: 12:25 a.m. EST -- Members of a fire brigade found about 10 bodies on the terrace of a restaurant opposite the Splendid Hotel that had been captured Friday by suspected Islamic militants, Burkina Faso’s interior minister told Reuters. The country’s security forces, along with French special forces, are engaged in retaking the hotel.
"There are some dead but we don't have the numbers,” Communication Minister Remis Dandjinou told Agence France-Presse, adding that the government minister among the hostages rescued was Labor Minister Clement Sawadogo.
UPDATE: 10:45 p.m. EST -- Thirty-three hostages, including a government minister, were freed from a Burkina Faso hotel that had been seized Friday by suspected Islamist militants, Reuters reported.
UPDATE: 9:15 p.m. EST-- An al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa said in statement that it had made contact with the attackers allegedly responsible for the hostage situation in Burkina Faso, who said they had killed 30 hostages, the New York Times reported. The statement added that the operation was, “revenge against France and the disbelieving West.”
UPDATE: 8:40 p.m. EST--A Burkina Faso hotel captured by Islamic militants caught on fire after commandos used explosives to storm the building, witnesses claimed, the Associated Press reported. Gunmen had stormed the hotel, located in the country's capital, earlier Friday.
UPDATE: 8:30 p.m. EST-- Burkina Faso security forces began an assault to recapture a hotel seized by Islamic militants, Reuters reported. France, meanwhile, reportedly requested U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support in the African nation, where a hostage situation is underway, said a U.S. Defense Department official, Reuters reported. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the siege.
UPDATE: 7:50 p.m. EST -- At least 20 people have been killed during an unfolding hostage situation in the capital of Burkina Faso, a hospital chief told Agence France-Presse.
U.S. and French soldiers reportedly arrived at the scene of a hostage situation unfolding Friday night in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, according to a CNN broadcast. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed credit for the siege, the SITE Intelligence Group reported. There were no immediate details about possible causalities or the number of hostages involved.
"It is continuing at this time. We are trying to know how many attackers there are to better coordinate our actions. Hostages have been taken. The operation could take several hours," a senior official with the national gendarmes said, asking not to be named, Reuters reported.
Burkina Faso forces secured the hotel perimeter and were awaiting an order to start an assault against the attackers, according to the African nation's foreign minister, Reuters reported Friday evening.
Gunmen had stormed the hotel, burning cars outside and firing into the air to drive back crowds before security forces arrived, witnesses said, the Guardian reported. A witness told the Associated Press that when security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.
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“But we know that the gunmen won’t get out of the hotel alive,” the witness told the Associated Press. “Our country is not for jihadis or terrorists. They got it wrong.”
A curfew has been put place for Ouagadougou and the French Embassy has set up a crisis unit for its citizens; 3,5000 French nationals reportedly live in the country. In response to the attack, a French ambassador to Burkina Faso said an Air France flight from Paris to Ouagadougou has been diverted, Sky News reported. The U.S. Embassy also instructed embassy personnel to avoid the capital's downtown.
The attack would serve as the first in Burkina’s capital by Islamists, according to Reuters, and presents a significant challenge to President Roch Marc Kabore, who was the country’s first new, elected leader in decades.
"I take this opportunity to institute a rich social dialogue with the Burkinabe people so that together we can break the chains of misery and make a strong, dignified and respected nation," Kabore, 57, said while delivering his first speech as president before thousands of supporters, the International Business Times previously reported.
Burkina Faso is a tiny, landlocked country that borders Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Niger, is rich in cotton and gold but remains one of the world’s poorest nations.