About 30 people were feared killed after suspected Salafi jihadists launched a three-pronged assault on public offices across the Burkinabe capital, local media reports said Friday.
Most of the victims are Burkinabe soldiers who responded to coordinated attacks by gunmen in Ouagadougou Friday morning. At least seven attackers were said to have been killed in shootouts with the troops.
More than 64 persons are reportedly injured in the attacks which were launched against Burkinabe Prime Minister’s office, the Army Headquarters and the French Embassy, according to reports by Radio Omega, an independent broadcaster, which was monitored in Ouagadougou by PREMIUM TIMES publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi.
Official government toll placed death figures at eight but feared the number may rise in the coming hours as a result of the attack which the French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, has described as “a terrorist attack.”
Four out of the eight deaths that the government confirmed occurred at the Prime Minister’s office while the remaining four were killed at the French Embassy. It was not immediately clear why the government played down the death toll, but such practice is not uncommon in the country.
The carnage started when unknown gunmen drove a pickup truck to the city centre and shouted: “Allahu Akhbar” (‘God is great’ in Arabic) around 10:00 a.m. local time.
They immediately burnt their truck before opening fire on passers-by, local media reports said. Within minutes, the attackers had gotten to the Prime Minister’s office, the French Embassy and the Army Headquarters and fired rockets at the buildings.
Many soldiers were killed in the gun battle that followed.
Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba suffered no injury in the attack.
“The Prime Minister’s office is untouched and is intact”, Galip Some, a Burkinabe government spokesperson told local media.
Mr. Some said in the government’s first statement since the attack that authorities “cannot ascribe any motive” to the attackers “since we are not in their mind.”
PREMIUM TIMES understands that Burkinabe soldiers have largely contained the attack as at Friday evening and have taken charge of the streets of Ouagadougou.
The Salafist group, Jamat Nosrate El Islam, was said to have launched the attack to celebrate its first anniversary.
The group has an objective to spread the caliphate and introduce Sharia. When it formed last year, it announced its footprint to cover only Libya, Mali and Niger.
But Friday’s attack in Burkina Faso introduced a new dimension to the group’s capabilities. The country had earlier contributed troops to join about 4,000 French troops who had been battling insurgents in the Sahel region on the southern rim of the Sahara.
The Jamat Nosrate El Islam, which boasts of over 500 members, is also said to be a fusion of splinter forces from Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dime, Katiba Macina, and Al-Maurabitoune, all operating across the African Sahel.
Its known leaders include Mokhtar Belmoktar an Algerian, now believed dead, Amadou Koufa, a Malian Fulani, and Abdul Hassan Ansari, a Malian Tuareg.