At least 28 killed in attacks on French embassy, military HQ in Burkina Faso
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At least 28 killed in attacks on French embassy, military HQ in Burkina Faso

Five men open fire on passersby in capital before heading to city center amid ongoing battle against al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists

People watch as black smoke rises as the capital of Burkina Faso came under multiple attacks on March 2, 2018, targeting the French embassy, the French cultural center and the country's military headquarters. (AFP/Ahmed Ouoba)
People watch as black smoke rises as the capital of Burkina Faso came under multiple attacks on March 2, 2018, targeting the French embassy, the French cultural center and the country's military headquarters. (AFP/Ahmed Ouoba)

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — At least 28 people were killed Friday in an attack on the military headquarters of Burkina Faso, security sources said.

The capital of Burkina Faso came under multiple attacks which targeted the French embassy, the French cultural center and the country’s military headquarters.

Two of the sources said 28 people were killed and a third spoke of “around 30” dead in the attack in the capital Ouagadougou. In a simultaneous attack, the French embassy was also targeted, leaving six assailants killed, according to the Burkinabe government.

Witnesses said five armed men got out of a car and opened fire on passersby before heading towards the embassy in the center 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.

Security personnel take cover as smoke billows from The Institute Francais in Ouagadougou on March 2, 2018, as the capital of Burkina Faso came under multiple attacks targeting the French embassy, the French cultural center and the country’s military headquarters. (AFP/Ahmed Ouoba)

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 (half a mile) from the site of the first attack.

The French embassy, on Facebook, initially said “attack under way 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.

Deadly insurgency

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 center.

Responsibility was claimed by a group called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In this photo taken on November 1, 2017, a soldier of France’s Barkhane mission bearing the insignia ‘Barkhane operation’ holds a weapon as he patrols in central Mali, in the border zone with Burkina Faso and Niger as a joint anti-jihadist force linking countries in the Sahel began operations on November 1. (AFP/Daphné Benoit)

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 United Nations 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 center 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 for Islam and Muslims.” In the background, Macron’s voice is heard on a loop, saying “I will protect you.”

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