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18 killed in attack on restaurant in Burkina Faso capital

August 14, 2017

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Suspected Islamic extremists opened fire at a Turkish restaurant in the capital of Burkina Faso late Sunday, killing at least 18 people in the second such attack on a restaurant popular with foreigners in the last two years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the violence, which continued into the early hours Monday. Gunfire could be heard almost seven hours after the attack began. In addition to those killed, eight others were wounded, Communications Minister Remi Dandjinou told journalists. Two of the attackers were also killed, he said.

The victims came from several different nationalities, he said. At least one of the dead was French and another was Turkish. Security forces arrived at the scene with armored vehicles after reports of shots fired near Aziz Istanbul, an upscale restaurant in Ouagadougou. The attack brought back painful memories of the January 2016 attack at another cafe that left 30 people dead.

Three or four assailants arrived at the restaurant on motorcycles and then began shooting randomly at the crowds dining Sunday evening, said police Capt. Guy Ye. Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It shares a northern border with Mali, which has long battled Islamic extremists.

In the 2016 attack the attackers were of foreign origin, according to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which claimed responsibility for those killings along with the jihadist group known as Al Mourabitoun. But the terror threat in Burkina Faso is increasingly homegrown, experts say.

The northern border region is now the home of a local preacher, Ibrahim Malam Dicko, who radicalized and has claimed responsibility for recent deadly attacks against troops and civilians. His association, Ansarul Islam, is now considered a terrorist group by Burkina Faso’s government.

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Burkina Faso capital security tightens after jihadi attack

January 18, 2016

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — In the wake of a weekend attack that killed at least 29 people, security was beefed up across Burkina Faso’s capital Monday as businesses and banks reopened.

The West African nation also announced a joint effort with neighboring Mali in the fight against Islamic extremists in the West African region. “Please go ahead and search my bag. We want to be protected and there is no way to refuse this,” said Fati Doussa, to security guards as he visited a bank to get some cash. Metal detectors have been placed at banks.

“We know it is just going to be different from now on,” said Ousmane Sawadogo, a cell-phone seller some 200 meters (218 yards) from the Splendid Hotel which was attacked Friday night. The attack was the first of its kind in Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country that had managed to avoid the kinds of jihadi attacks that have hit neighboring Mali since 2012.

At the site Monday, forensic experts and investigators from France and Burkina Faso, dressed in white, filled the brown dusty street, gathering evidence in secured areas near the hotel and the Cappuccino Cafe.

Military forces ended the siege Saturday. Burkina Faso’s security minister, Simon Compaore, said Sunday 32 people were dead, including three jihadis. French Ambassador Gilles Thibault said Monday that about 30 people were dead in addition to the three attackers who were killed by French forces. Thirty others were still hospitalized, and about 180 had been freed by French and Burkina Faso forces during and after the siege, he said.

“We were awaiting an attack like this one,” he said. “It’s impossible to say if these types of operations will be limited to just this one.” Officials Saturday said forces killed three attackers in the Splendid Hotel and another in a neighboring hotel.

Military spokesman Capt. Guy Herve Ye on Monday said, however, that they have clearly identified three attackers and are investigating what they thought was a fourth. He said that many witnesses said that there were women among the attackers, though he says that is probably because the attackers had long dreadlocks.

Two former Olympic officials, Jean-Noel Rey from Switzerland and Jean-Pascal Kinda from Burkina Faso, were killed, Swiss and Burkina Faso authorities said. It was not clear if they had been together during the attack or if their presence was a coincidence.

Kinda, 73, was a former Olympic Committee president who had gone to the Cappuccino Cafe to pick up a paper, said his friend and a local magistrate Mathias Tankoano. Rey was co-president of the Swiss bidding committee for the 2006 Olympics, Swiss media reports said. He was in Burkina Faso for a charity project to open the canteen of a school, the reports said.

The toll also includes a Ukrainian woman who was co-owner of the Cappuccino Cafe, along with her 9-year-old son, according to Ukrainian and Italian officials, and six Canadians, according to Canada officials. The six were traveling together as part of a humanitarian mission, and four them were from the same family.

The list of those killed include eight citizens of Burkina Faso, two Ukrainians, two Swiss, two French and one each from the U.S., the Netherlands, Portugal and Libya, and one French-Ukrainian, according to Burkina Faso officials who released a partial list. Other bodies were being identified.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb put out a formal statement Sunday naming three of the attackers as men, according to SITE Intelligence Group which monitors extremist sites. It said it was a “drop in the sea of global jihad.”

The group on Friday claimed responsibility for the attack saying al-Mourabitoun fighters carried out the siege. Al-Mourabitoun joined AQIM last year and they claimed their first joint attack was the Nov. 20 seizure of the Radisson Blu in Mali that killed 20 people.

Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi visited Ouagadougou Monday to show support and the backing of the Economic Community of West African States. “What could have led to such hatred? It is unimaginable. I am so dejected. We must prepare ourselves for an adequate response,” he said near the site of the attack.

Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said regional forces must combine to fight extremism. “We need to combine our intelligence and military to better fight terrorism, notably at our borders. This does not only concern West Africa. We are in an asymmetric war. We need to train our armed forces for this type of combat,” Kabore said Monday. “From now on we are going to take all measures to prevent such things from happening again.”

Burkina Faso and Mali’s prime ministers met Sunday and agreed to share intelligence, strengthen transnational cooperation and have join patrols along shared borders, they said.

Associated Press writer Ludivine Laniepce contributed to this report.

4 members of Ukrainian family among dead in Burkina Faso

January 17, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Four members of a Ukrainian family, including a 9-year-old child, were among those killed when al-Qaida fighters attacked a popular cafe and hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou, Ukraine’s foreign minister said Sunday.

The dead included a Ukrainian woman who together with her Italian husband owned the cafe, and their child, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevgeny Ignatovsky told 112 Ukraina television. He gave no further details. Nor did Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who used Twitter to report the deaths of four family members, including a 9-year-old child.

The Italian foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday the 9-year-old son of Gaetano Santomenna, the Italian owner of Cafe Cappuccino, was inside the cafe with his mother when the attack took place, but it had no confirmation that the boy had been killed.

Ukrainian websites identified the other two Ukrainian victims as the sister and mother of the cafe owner’s wife. This information could not immediately be confirmed. Friday’s attacks left 28 people dead from at least nine different countries including Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Libya, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Ukraine and the U.S.

Burkina Faso hotel seizure ends; 4 jihadis, 28 others dead

January 17, 2016

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — The Al-Qaida fighters who stormed a popular hangout in Burkina Faso’s capital at dinnertime came with a mission to kill as many people as possible, firing at people as they moved to a nearby hotel and setting the cafe ablaze, survivors and officials said Saturday. When the gunfire stopped after a more than 12-hour siege, at least 28 people had been slain in an unprecedented attack on this West African country long spared the jihadist violence experienced by its neighbors.

Like the extremist attacks from Paris to Jakarta, the assailants in the Friday evening attack targeted an area where people from different nationalities gathered to enjoy life. Here in Ouagadougou, the victims had been grabbing a cold drink outside or staying at one of the capital’s few upscale hotels. In this city with a large aid worker presence, the attackers sought to shoot as many non-Muslims as possible, screaming Allahu akhbar (Arabic for God is great) as they entered.

An audio tape later released by the al-Qaida group claiming responsibility for the carnage was entitled: “A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts.” Among the victims from 18 different countries were the wife and 5-year-old daughter of the Italian man who owns the Cappuccino Cafe, where at least 10 people died in a hail of gunfire and smoke after the attackers set the building ablaze before moving on to the Splendid Hotel nearby. Some survivors cowered for hours on the roof or hid in the restaurant’s bathroom to stay alive. Two French and two Swiss citizens were confirmed among the dead late Saturday by the two countries’ foreign ministries.

The mother-in-law of an American missionary confirmed Saturday that he was among the dead. Carol Boyle said Michael Riddering, 45, of Cooper City, Florida, had been working in Burkina Faso since 2011. Riddering died in the Cappuccino Cafe, where he was to meet a group planning to volunteer at the orphanage and women’s crisis center he ran with his wife Amy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Saturday that six of the dead were Canadians. Authorities said the four known attackers — all killed by security forces — had come in a vehicle with plates from neighboring Niger. At least two of them were women and one was of African descent. Witnesses said they wore the turbans often worn in the sand-swept countryside of the Sahel, and some spoke in French with an Arabic accent, suggesting some may have come from further north in Africa.

“I heard the gunfire and I saw a light by my window and I thought it was fireworks at first,” said Rachid Faouzi Ouedraogo, a 22-year-old accounting student who lives near the scene of the carnage. “I raced downstairs and once outside I saw people running through the street and four people firing on the people at Cappuccino.”

Burkinabe forces backed by French soldiers based in neighboring Mali managed to help free at least 126 hostages though officials have said the true number of those held hostage may be higher. Dozens were wounded in the overnight siege, including many suffering gunshot wounds.

“We appeal to the people to be vigilant and brave because we must fight on,” President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on national radio Saturday. The North Africa branch of al-Qaida, founded in Algeria, claimed responsibility for the bloodbath even as it was unfolding in a series of statements published and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM — now working in tandem with feared extremist Moktar Belmoktar — later released an audio clip it said was a conversation with one of the fighters later slain in Ouagadougou.

The message said the attack was directed at “the occupiers of our lands, the looters of our wealth, and the abusers of our security,” according to SITE and sought to punish them “for their crimes against our people in Central Africa, Mali, and other lands of the Muslims, and to avenge our prophet.”

Burkina Faso is a largely Muslim country though it is home to a number of French nationals as a former colony of France. Islamic extremists in the region have long targeted French interests, incensed by France’s military footprint on the continent more than a half century after independence. France led the military effort in 2013 to oust extremists from their seats of power in northern Mali, and continue to carry out counterterrorism activities across the Sahel region.

French special forces were also front and center early Saturday, as police and military forces fought to take back the Splendid Hotel. After freeing the hostages there, forces then scoured other buildings including the Hotel Yibi where they killed the fourth attacker, the president later said.

The horror closely mirrored the siege of an upscale hotel in Bamako, Mali in November that left 20 people dead and shattered the sense of security in the capital of a nation whose countryside has long been scarred by extremism.

Burkina Faso was better known for the role its president and officials played in mediating hostage releases when jihadists would seize foreigners for ransom in places like Niger or Mali. Now though, it appears Burkina, too, has been turned into a place where Westerners are at high risk.

On Sunday, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement that an Australian doctor and his wife had been kidnapped in Burkina Faso’s north. The two were abducted from the town of Djibo near the border with Mali.

Australian media reported the couple are surgeon Ken Eliot and his wife Jocelyn. The couple are in their 80s and are originally from the Australian city of Perth. The reports said the couple have lived since 1972 in Djibo, near Baraboule, where they work in a volunteer medical clinic which they built.

Jihadists also hold a third foreigner: a Romanian national who was kidnapped in an attack last April that was the first of its kind at the time. Some analysts point to the security vacuum that has emerged in Burkina Faso since late 2014, when the longtime strongman leader fled power in a popular uprising. Members of the military jockeyed for power, and the country suffered through a short-lived coup earlier this year before democratic elections were allowed to go forward in November.

Most in Burkina Faso recoil at the idea of extremism now taking hold here, adding to the woes of one of the poorest countries in the world. “We know that the gunmen won’t get out of the hotel alive,” said one witness of the overnight siege, who gave only his first name, Gilbert. “Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong.”

Associated Press writers Ludivine Laniepce in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Krista Larson and Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal; and Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

Burkina Faso commission says Kabore wins presidency

December 01, 2015

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Roch Marc Christian Kabore was elected Burkina Faso’s president, according to preliminary results announced early Tuesday, replacing the transitional government put in place after the West African nation’s longtime leader was toppled in a popular uprising last year.

The country’s electoral commission said results show Kabore, from the Movement of People for Progress party, won 53.5 percent of the vote, or more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Zephirin Diabre came in second place with 29.6 percent of the vote, and Tahirou Barry came in third with 3 percent.

Electoral commission president Barthelemy Kere said 60 percent of the country’s 5.5 million registered voters participated in Sunday’s election. Fourteen candidates took part in the elections to replace the transition government set up after President Blaise Compaore was forced into exile in October 2014 after a 27-year rule. The poll, originally scheduled for October, was postponed after a coup by the presidential guard in September. Transitional President Michel Kafando and the prime minister were restored to power after a week, and the guard was disbanded.

Hundreds of supporters gathered Monday night at Kabore’s campaign headquarters as early results showed him likely to win. Diabre joined and congratulated him. Candidates have seven days to contest the results before the constitutional court finalizes them.

The 58-year-old Kabore was the prime minister and speaker of parliament under Compaore. In January 2014, Kabore and others broke with the president to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Compaore to extend his power.

Kabore will be the second civilian president since the country gained independence from France in 1960 and has faced six coups. A new electoral code barred Compaore’s party candidate from running, however the party could have a strong showing in legislative results which could be announced later Tuesday.

Burkina Faso holds 1st vote since popular uprising

November 29, 2015

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Thousands of people cast their ballots Sunday in Burkina Faso’s first presidential and legislative elections since a popular uprising toppled the nation’s longtime leader last year.

Many say the vote will be the most democratic in the West African nation’s history, because no incumbent is on the ballot and the presidential guard has been dissolved. “It is a victory for the youth that has expressed its will for change and for real democracy,” said transitional President Michel Kafando after casting his vote.

He also said it was a victory for the about 17 million citizens of Burkina Faso who have waited decades for a democratic vote and called on citizens to avoid violence after results are announced. A popular uprising in October 2014 forced President Blaise Compaore to resign after a 27-year rule. A transitional government was put in place, but it was soon at odds with Compaore’s elite presidential guard. The presidential guard staged a coup in September that lasted only a week and caused the election, originally scheduled for October, to be postponed. It was the country’s sixth coup since it gained independence from France in 1960.

Burkina Faso’s new electoral code bars presidential candidates who supported Compaore’s bid to change the constitution, although the ex-president’s party could have a strong showing in the legislative election.

“We must show that civilians can rule the country, and bring it to normality. We have faced a lot of coups and it is enough,” said Roch Marc Christian Kabore, one of the front-runners. Abdoulaye Sawadogo, an engineer at a road building company, said he hopes the new leader will address issues of employment, health and education.

Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group said whoever is elected will have a hard time fulfilling voters’ hopes. “The expectations are so high — for change, for justice, for the fight against corruption,” Ohayon said.

Some 5.5 million people were registered to vote at more than 17,800 polling stations that closed around 6 p.m. local time on Sunday. Preliminary results are expected to start being announced on Monday.

A candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. More than 17,000 local and foreign observers monitored the poll, and 25,000 soldiers and police were deployed.

Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet in Abidjan, Ivory Coast contributed to this report.

Burkina Faso army attacks, takes over coup plotter barracks

September 30, 2015

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Burkina Faso’s army took over the barracks of the presidential guard that carried out a short-lived coup this month, barraging them with gunfire Tuesday after they refused to disarm, the government said.

The government confirmed the takeover on national TV, saying they liberated all of the places formerly occupied by the presidential guard. “Given the situation which has become intolerable for our people, and determined to turn this dark page in our history, our patriotic defense and security forces took responsibility with success,” it said.

The government did not immediately give a casualty toll. Burkina Faso’s army appeared to have prepared for the offensive all day, earlier surrounding the barracks, and the nearby presidential palace and national radio in the capital, Ouagadougou. Artillery was fired at the barracks of the elite presidential guard before they took control, said army spokesman Capt. Guy Herve Ye.

Gen. Gilbert Diendere, who led the coup earlier this month but handed power back last week, called on his followers to lay down arms. “I call on all the elements to lower their arms and to rejoin the ranks of the army to avoid unnecessary bloodshed,” Diendere said in an interview with local Radio Omega after the army attacked.

The elite presidential guard staged the coup because it was unhappy that supporters of former President Blaise Compaore, ousted in a popular uprising in October, couldn’t run in elections. The presidential guard arrested interim President Michel Kafando and interim Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida on Sept. 16. Diendere later took power, but stepped down after pressure from the West African regional bloc, Burkina Faso’s military and demonstrating citizens. Kafando and Zida were reinstalled on Sept. 23.

Under a peace deal brokered last week, members of the presidential guard are supposed to disarm. Diendere told the radio station that some 100 soldiers, a captain and an interim leader had left the presidential guard and accepted disarmament. But the presidential guard, which initially had around 1,300 members, said Tuesday that it will not give up its weapons under “shameful and violent” conditions.

“Any attempt of aggression against our regiment will result in a clear, clean and decisive response as always,” the presidential guard said. In another show of force, the army arrested Djibril Bassole, a former high-ranking minister accused of collaborating with the mutinous soldiers, said Ye.

He is accused of supporting Diendere. The two are also accused of seeking help from foreign forces. Bassole has denied the allegations, calling it a “demonization campaign” against him. Bassole, a high-level diplomat, served under Compaore, who ruled Burkina Faso for nearly 30 years.

Bassole is among 14 people whose assets have been frozen following the coup. Authorities said that presidential guard members found to have played significant roles in the coup earlier this month will face trial, while others will be reintegrated into the army.

Burkina Faso’s vote was scheduled for Oct. 11 but interim Prime Minister Zida has said elections have been postponed for several weeks.

Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

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