Extremists killed as Burkina Faso hotel siege ends
Four extremists have been killed by security forces and more than 126 people were freed after a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso was seized by al Qaida-linked militants.
In addition to the four jihadis, at least 23 people were killed in the attack at the Splendid Hotel and a nearby cafe in the West African country's capital, Ouagadougou.
Three attackers died at the hotel, with a fourth killed when security forces cleared out a second hotel nearby.
Two of the three attackers at the Splendid Hotel were identified as female, Burkina Faso's president Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on national radio.
In a separate development, an Austrian doctor and his wife were kidnapped on Friday night by extremists in Burkina Faso's north near its border with Mali, security ministry spokeswoman Abi Ouattara said.
Jihadis took the couple from the town of Baraboule in the Soum province in Burkina Faso's Sahel region, Ms Ouattara said. There was no immediate confirmation of the kidnapping from Austrian officials.
In the capital, the Islamic extremists stormed the Splendid Hotel and a nearby cafe on Friday night.
Gunfire was exchanged early on Saturday as police and military forces fought to take back the building which had been blackened by a fire during the assault.
Security forces from Burkina Faso and France took control of the Splendid Hotel and are searching nearby hotels to be sure no other extremists were in hiding. The search continued even after security forces found and killed a fourth extremist at the Hotel Yibi.
About 33 people were wounded and 126 people were freed.
The harrowing attack was launched by the same extremists behind a similar siege at a luxury hotel last November in Bamako, Mali, that left 20 dead.
Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighbouring Mali to help the rescue effort.
One US military member was embedded with French forces at the scene, and the United States is working to help provide France with surveillance and reconnaissance help.
An al Qaida affiliate known as AQIM, or al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility as the attack was ongoing in Ouagadougou at the 147-room hotel, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
An online message claimed fighters "broke into a restaurant of one of the biggest hotels in the capital of Burkina Faso, and are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion".
Jihadis who spoke by phone later "asserted the fall of many dead Crusaders," AQIM said, according to SITE.
Burkina Faso's internal affairs minister Simon Compaore said that 10 bodies were found inside the Cappuccino Cafe, a restaurant located next to the Splendid Hotel.
Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, had for years been largely spared from the violence carried out by Islamic extremist groups who were abducting foreigners for ransom in Mali and Niger.
Then last April, a Romanian national was kidnapped, the first such incident of its kind in Burkina Faso.
The country has seen growing political turmoil since its long-serving president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014.
Last September, members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted only about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso's November election ushered in new leaders.
The hotel attack in Mali in November also was claimed by a leader of AQIM, who said it had been carried out as a declaration of unity with Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar's extremist group Al-Mourabitoun.
Belmoktar was a former leader in AQIM before starting his own group, which has now been reabsorbed by al Qaida.