Ouagadougou rocked by twin attacks by suspected Islamist militants
The French embassy in the Burkino Faso capital of Ouagadougou has been attacked by suspected jihadists in a coordinated assault that also hit the countrys army headquarters.
Frances foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the Burkinabe government confirmed that the embassy had been the target of one of a pair of attacks against several locations on Friday.
Le Drian told LCI television that there were no French casualties, as far as were aware and that the attackers had been neutralised, adding that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, was being kept informed of the situation.
The Burkinabe government said that eight attackers and seven soldiers were killed in the attacks, but other reports suggested an even bloodier outcome, with dozens of victims.
About 50 were reportedly injured at the army headquarters, where witnesses described an explosion just after 10am. This was followed by an attack by armed men disguised in military uniforms at the location next to the citys main market.
At the same time, a second group of about five men in a pickup truck opened fire in the vicinity of the prime ministers office and tried to enter the French embassy.
Security officials said about a dozen attackers were involved in the two incidents. Video footage showed plumes of black smoke over the city.
Witnesses at the national television office, which faces the French embassy in an area that also houses the prime ministers office and the UN, said five people pulled up in front of the embassy in a pickup truck. They set fire to the vehicle, shouted Allahu Akhbar and began shooting, they said.
A few hours after the attack, the public prosecutor in Paris announced it had opened an investigation into attempted murder.
Burkina Faso is one of a number of fragile countries on the southern rim of the Sahara that are battling jihadi groups. The insurgency has killed thousands of people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, dealing crippling blows to economies already among the poorest in the world.
Attacks have increased in frequency since 2016 when al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the al-Mourabitoun group launched an assault on a hotel and restaurant taking 170 people hostage and killing 30 in Burkina Fasos most lethal attack. Gunmen also killed 18 people outside a Turkish restaurant in Ouagadougou last year.
The latest attack, which appears to be the boldest yet, comes against a backdrop of smaller incidents around the country that have targeted the security forces, and schools and teachers as part of the militants campaign for an education system based on the Quran.
Teachers who have been threatened have closed their classrooms and left. At least 98 schools have been closed in Burkina Fasos Sahel region because of insecurity, according to Unicef.
The increase in violence has coincided with the formation of a new coalition of jihadi groups announced last spring, including AQIM, al-Mourabitoun and several others into the so-called Defence Group of Islam and Muslims. Some of the attacks have been linked to groups operating in the wider Sahel region.
In one of the countrys largest recent displacements, about 15,000 people in Soum province have fled their homes in the past year, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross. This figure is far below reality because some have found shelter in households and others have refused to be registered, said Christian Munezero, the head of the ICRC in Burkina Faso.
France, the former colonial power in the Sahel region, has deployed 4,000 troops and is supporting a five-country counterinsurgency force involving Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us