Burkina Faso capital recovering from double attacks by extremists

Trading resumed at the main market in Burkina Faso's capital Saturday and residents returned to the streets, a day after Islamic extremists attacked the French Embassy and army headquarters in simultaneous assaults, killing eight people and wounding more than 80 others.

8 killed, dozens hurt as Islamic extremists target French Embassy, army headquarters

Clement Pengwende Sawadogo, left, Burkina Faso's minister for the civil service, labour and social security, sits with the communication minister and government spokesperson Remi Fulgence Dandjinou for a media briefing on Friday, after several people were killed in twin attacks on the French Embassy and the country's military. (Ahmed Ouoba/AFP/Getty Images)

Trading resumed at the main market in Burkina Faso's capital Saturday and residents returned to the streets, a day after Islamic extremists attacked the French Embassy and army headquarters in simultaneous assaults, killing eight people and wounding more than 80 others.

Security forces killed eight militant attackers, and several arrests were made, but the violence is a perilous reminder that Ouagadougou remains a target.

The smell of smoke lingered over the city Saturday as the prime minister prepared to meet with the army chief at the heavily reinforced and guarded army headquarters. A deep hole in the ground and adjacent wall mark where extremists dressed in uniform set off a car bomb, apparently targeting a room where senior officers were to have met, but had relocated, according to Security Minister Clement Sawadogo.

The room was completely destroyed and the car's parts scattered inside the headquarters. Sawadogo said if the meeting had taken place in that room, "our army would have been beheaded."

In an address to the nation Saturday, Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré honoured the victims and said nothing could justify the "senseless persecution" of the country, its institutions and population. He urged the public to collaborate more closely with the armed forces.

"In this difficult moment I want to reaffirm to Africa and to the whole world my unassailable faith in the ability of the Burkinabé people to preserve their dignity and put up a strong resistance to its enemies both inside and outside," he said. 

French ambassador to Burkina Faso Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes said both nations were targeted, referencing the two attacks that a Mali-based affiliate of al-Qaeda, Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, claimed responsibility for the attacks on Saturday, reportedly in retaliation for the death of one of its leaders in a recent raid by French forces.

"The symbol is very strong, it means that the terrorists are trying to divide us and of course that will not happen," he said.

"Our objective remains that of standing by Burkina Faso in this war against terrorism."

Military breach 'big shock'

Retired soldier Amado Belem told The Associated Press he is unhappy about the assault.

It's a big shock to know that the army has been attacked so easily. It makes me crazy," he said.

This is the third attack by Islamic militants on this city since January 2016, prompting criticism of the military.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks.

Troops ride in a vehicle near the French Embassy in central Ouagadougou on Friday. (Ludivine Laniepce/Associated Press)

People on Saturday flocked around the headquarters and the French Embassy to view the damage. A burned out car, remained in front of the embassy, which is riddled with bullet holes.

The embassy came under attack around 10:15 a.m. local time Friday, with witnesses at the nearby state TV offices telling The Associated Press that the attackers arrived in a pickup truck, shouted, "Allahu akbar!" and began shooting.

No one in the embassy was hurt, but a gendarme and the four attackers were killed, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in televised remarks.

Smoke rises amid one of the attacks in Ouagadougou. (EPA-EFE)

Residents expressed unease over the latest attacks.

"The situation is serious. You see … we thought it was just tear gas being fired in … the French Embassy, but it was real bullets that were killing. People ran to the Prime Minister's office. All day it was like this," said Sylvain Some, who works at a stand near the embassy. "I'm not content because there are a lot of wounded and dead. Truly, I'm not OK with this."

Special forces go into action

French special forces helped kill the assailants at the French Embassy, Security Minister Sawadogo said.

The attack at the army headquarters started shortly after the embassy assault and both were under control by 3 p.m., he said.

French Embassy and military headquarters attacked in Burkina Faso

4 years ago
Duration 0:39
Armed assailants attacked many targets in Burkina Faso's capital on Friday. A government statement said there were still no details on any civilian casualties

Among the dead, is Col. Djibril Lalle, a senior army officer, who was the director of studies and planning at the Ministry of Defence and who was a former governor of the Sahel region, Sawadogo said.

The landlocked nation of Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. It shares a northern border with Mali, which has long battled Islamic extremists. Attacks have spread into Burkina Faso, and a local extremist group has also gained momentum, attacking troops and civilians.

Islamic extremists have carried out two large-scale attacks on Ouagadougou in recent years, killing 30 people at a popular cafe in 2016 and 18 others at a Turkish restaurant in August 2017. Both times security forces have struggled to contain the violence, waiting for hours before intervening at the scene. In Friday's attack the military responded quickly.

Various extremist groups have also vowed to step up the bloodshed in response to the recent deployment of the G5 Sahel force. The 5,000-member force combines troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, with France leading the efforts to raise international funding.​

With files from Reuters