Eighteen people were killed in a suspected terrorist attack in the African nation of Burkina Faso overnight when extremists opened fire at a restaurant in the capital, the government announced on Monday.
It said that the attack targeted a Turkish restaurant that is popular with foreigners. A dozen people were injured in the assault. Two perpetrators have been killed, said Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou, but it is unclear how many gunmen were involved.
“The operation has ended” but searches are continuing in the Ouagadougou neighborhood around the restaurant, Dandjinou told a press briefing carried on social media.
He said the toll was provisional because the security operation was still underway.
A woman said she was in the restaurant celebrating her brother’s birthday when the shooting started.
“I just ran but my brother was left inside,” the woman told Reuters TV as she fled the building.
“According to witnesses, at least two assailants arrived on a motorcycle around 9pm armed with Kalashnikovs, opened fire on the Aziz Istanbul restaurant,” a police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A waiter in the restaurant said he saw “three men arrive on a 4X4 vehicle around 9:30 pm, get off the vehicle and open fire on customers seated on the terrace”.
Shooting ended around 5 am (0500 GMT), according to an AFP journalist who was near the restaurant.
Dandjinou had earlier said that “some people were held” by the assailants and that “some were released”, but gave no further details. He said the 18 victims were of different nationalities, both Burkinabes and foreigners. Turkey said one of its citizens was among the dead.
The Aziz Istanbul restaurant is just 200 meters from a hotel and cafe targeted in an assault in January 2016 that left 30 people dead and 71 wounded, many of them foreigners. That attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group.
Security forces launched a counter-assault at around 10:15 pm against the assailants who were hiding in the building, the police officer said. The shooting was intense at first and then sporadic, an AFP journalist said.
An earlier government statement described the shooting as a “terrorist attack.”
The wounded were taken to Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital.
“We are overwhelmed,” one surgeon told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“We have received about a dozen wounded, including three who have died. The condition of the other wounded is critical. Three of them are currently being operated on.”
In the first international reaction to the attack, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he will speak with Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré during the day to evaluate the situation after the Ouagadougou attack, said a statement issued by Macron’s office.
The statement said France remained committed to working alongside countries in the region to fight against terrorist groups.
French TV station BFM reported that one French citizen had been killed in the attack, although there was no immediate, official confirmation of this fatality.
Burkina Faso, a poor landlocked nation bordering Mali and Niger, has seen a string of attacks claimed by extremist groups in recent years.
Thirty people were killed when gunmen attacked a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou in January 2016 in an incident claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
AQIM and related extremist groups were largely confined to the Sahara desert until they hijacked a Tuareg rebellion in Mali in 2012 and swept south.
French forces intervened to prevent them taking Mali’s capital, Bamako, the following year, but they have since gradually expanded their reach, launching high-profile attacks on Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
A new al Qaeda-linked alliance of Malian extremist groups claimed an attack in June that killed at least five people at a luxury Mali resort popular with Western expatriates just outside Bamako.
African nations launched a new multinational military force to tackle extremist militants in the Sahel last month, but it will not be operational until later this year and faces a budget shortfall.