Smoke rises from the site of an attack in downtown Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso March 2 2018. Picture: REUTERS/ANNE MIMAULT
Smoke rises from the site of an attack in downtown Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso March 2 2018. Picture: REUTERS/ANNE MIMAULT

Ouagadougou — The capital of Burkina Faso came under multiple attacks on Friday, which targeted the French embassy, the French cultural centre and the country’s military headquarters, an AFP reporter and witnesses said.

Witnesses said five armed men got out of a car and opened fire on passersby before heading towards the embassy in the centre of the city. An AFP reporter heard heavy exchanges of gunfire and saw a blazing vehicle, which witnesses said was the car used by the assailants. Police and army units were deployed in the area.

Other witnesses said there was an explosion near the headquarters of the Burkinabe armed forces and the French cultural centre, which are located about a kilometre from the site of the first attack. There was no early information about any casualties.

The French embassy, on Facebook, initially said "attack underway at the French embassy and French Institute. Stay indoors". It later said: "Uncertain at this stage which places are targeted" but maintained its advice for people to stay indoors. In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron’s office said the French leader was "being informed in real time" of the situation.

Burkina Faso is one of a string of fragile countries on the southern rim of the Sahara that are battling jihadist groups. The insurgency has caused thousands of deaths, prompted tens of thousands to flee their homes and dealt crippling blows to economies that are already among the poorest in the world.

On August 13 last year, two assailants opened fire on a restaurant on Ouagadougou’s main avenue, killing 19 people and wounded 21. The attack remains unclaimed.

On January 15 2016, 30 people, including six Canadians and five Europeans, were killed in a jihadist attack on a hotel and restaurant in the city centre. Responsibility was claimed by a group called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

France, the former colonial power in the Sahel region, has deployed 4,000 troops and is supporting a five-country joint force gathering Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The UN also has a 12,000-strong peacekeeping force in Mali called MINUSMA, which has taken heavy casualties. Four UN peacekeepers were killed by a mine blast on Wednesday in the centre of the country.

In a separate development on Friday, the specialist US website SITE, which monitors jihadist activity, said kidnappers had released a video of a 75-year-old French hostage, Sophie Petronin, who had been abducted in northern Mali in late 2016. Petronin, who had been running an association helping Malian orphans, appears in poor health in the brief video.

Her kidnapping, hitherto unclaimed, was carried out by the "Support Group of Islam and Muslims." In the background, Macron’s voice is heard on a loop, saying "I will protect you".


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