Over 20 people are killed and an unknown number of hostages taken in an attack on a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.
Security forces in the early hours of Saturday began an assault to reclaim the Splendid Hotel and entered its lobby, part of which was on fire, witnesses said.
At least 33 hostages, including a government minister, were freed from the besieged hotel, the country’s communications minister told Reuters news agency, but other sources said at least 63 hostages have been rescued.
Diallo Ismael, a human rights activist, said that about 300 people could be inside the hotel popular with foreigners.
“The security forces are close to storming the building,” Ismael told Al Jazeera from Ouagadougou.
The interior ministry said that fire brigade has found around 10 bodies on terrace of restaurant opposite the hotel.
French forces also arrived in Ouagadougou from neighbouring Mali to aid the effort, Associated Press news agency reported.
The director of the capital city’s university hospital said they were treating 15 people, some with bullet wounds.
Earlier, Olympia de Maismont, a local reporter, told Al Jazeera that police confirmed that there were hostages in the Splendid Hotel, and she said the military had surrounded the building following reports of gunfire and explosions.
The attack, she added, happened around 8pm local time on Friday.
Reuters reported that gunmen stormed the hotel, burning cars outside and firing in the air to drive back crowds before security forces arrived, prompting an intense exchange of gunfire.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack, SITE Intelligence Group, a monitoring organisation, reported.
Splendid Hotel, a four-star residence which is near the airport, is known to be popular with foreigners, including UN staff.
This is the first time gunmen have carried out an assault in the capital of Burkina Faso.
In November, gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako, and took at least 170 people hostage.
After a nine-hour standoff with Malian and UN soldiers, most of the hostages were released – but 19 were killed. Two attackers were also killed.
Burkina Faso elected Roch Marc Christian Kabore as its new president in a historic vote in November, becoming the West African country’s first new leader in decades.
Kabore’s win marked the end of a transitional period after the overthrow of the country’s longtime ruler, Blaise Compaore, in 2014 and a failed coup attempt in September.