Eighteen people were killed when gunmen on motorcycles stormed a restaurant and took hostages in an eight-hour siege in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou Sunday night. The two gunmen were killed in a prolonged gun battle with security forces.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. But suspicion has fallen on the local al Qaeda affiliate behind a surge of violence in the region in recent years, despite an ongoing French-led counterterrorism mission in the Sahel since 2013. It’s the second major terror attack to jolt the West African nation in two years.
The attack began at about 9 p.m. local time Sunday (5 p.m. ET), when gunmen raided Aziz Istanbul, a Turkish restaurant in central Ouagadougou that’s a popular destination for foreigners. Security forces responded with a counterassault, resulting in a gun battle that eventually ended at about 5 a.m. Monday (1 a.m. ET) after the two attackers were killed, the government said.
One Turkish citizen was confirmed among the victims, but the nationalities of the others are yet to be disclosed.
Until recently, Burkina Faso had largely avoided the jihadi violence that has plagued Mali, its neighbor to the north. But a recent escalation in jihadi operations has seen it struck with a number of attacks in the past two years, as al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists have demonstrated their ability to strike in the region seemingly at will.
In January 2016, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), known as one of the terror group’s most dangerous regional offshoots, carried out attacks on a luxury hotel in Ouagadougou that left 30 people dead. The group is also believed to have been behind an assault that killed 12 soldiers in the north of Burkina Faso, near the border with Mali.
In March, AQIM joined forces with other regional jihadi groups, including Ansar Dine and Al Murabitoun, to form the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda’s global leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Burkina Faso also faces a threat from Ansarul Islam, another al Qaeda-affiliated jihadi movement in the north of the country, led by a local radical imam, Ibrahim Malam Dicko.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose government has led the military campaign against the jihadis in the region, condemned the attack, and said he would hold talks with Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Kaboré on Monday to evaluate the situation. A new regional force of nearly 3,000 troops, supported by the French military, is due to be deployed this month.