According to local media, Burkinabè and French forces entered the Hotel Splendide, where the three terrorist attackers were holed up, about 9:45 last night. Intermittent firing has been heard from within the building ever since. It is now almost 9:00 a.m. Saturday and the situation is still in flux. As far as victims are concerned, the central hospital is reporting 20 dead and 15 injured, which seems an odd ratio. Another report from the Ministry of Public Security says that of the 63 hostages rescued, 33 needed medical attention. Many of the dead appear to have been among those dining at a café, Cappuccino, popular with expats, that is right across the street from the Splendide. The hotel was hosting a meeting of regional government officials concerned with aviation safety, so maybe the terrorists had a better intelligence idea of their target than I imagined in my earlier post. The Burkinabè Minister of Civil Service (Fonction Publique) was among those present and was rescued by security forces (perhaps his own security detail?) He is among the hostages reported rescued early this morning.
Here’s a New York Times piece on the attack with plenty of detail.
An image from the Times (photo credit to AFP) shows men in French uniforms assisting a wounded man who may be in the uniform of a Burkinabè Gendarme (military policeman). In the background, an apparently pregnant woman is being helped by more French people.
I think from the uniforms that these guys are firefighters. There are supposed to be elite French military around, too, though. Hopefully, they are working on giving the terrorists what they want, martyrdom in battle. I’m kind of wondering at how long this is taking to clear up, honestly. There are only a couple of attackers, apparently, and dozens of heavily-armed cops including foreign specialists. Anyway, it isn’t my business to judge – as a foreigner and a non-specialist, what do I know?
The Burkina Faso police announced a couple of days ago that they had captured a bomb factory and confiscated a large amount of explosives. They also said that they had foiled a major attack. Obviously, they must have missed some of the attackers. But perhaps this would have been even bigger and more deadly without their actions.
As far as my own personal situation is concerned, in response to all the people who expressed concern last night (even the one that called me at 2:45 in the morning), I’m fine, thanks very much for your kind thoughts. I was at a restaurant, not anywhere near the downtown main drag, when the attack started. I didn’t hear anything at the time, but when I stopped by my local hangout on the way back from the restaurant to greet everyone, they were all agitated. The guy who sells kebabs was putting out his fire and packing up, and the proprietor of the drinks side was hanging with his brothers, but suggested that I should get off the streets for my own safety. I took his advice as far as the omelette shop in front of my house, where I stood with the proprietor and his friends for a while and listened to the radio. It is a side street and the omelette shop guys were playing pelote in the street so I didn’t think there was a security risk. After a while I went in and wrote last night’s quick post.
This really changes nothing in terms of my evaluation of my own security. I have been (mostly) careful to avoid places like those attacked last night, although I have eaten at the Cappucino. This sort of thing was always possible. Borders in West Africa are highly porous. When I was living in Guinea, we had a volunteer in a town, Sinko, that was a notorious smugglers’ haven; in fact, we sent the volunteer there at government request so that he could help the villagers develop legitimate ways to make a living. There are a bunch of radicalized people in Mali and Niger. The situation for the Tuareg minority in those countries was always pretty poor, ever since the drought in the 1970s killed off their herds of sheep and camels. They were Sufis for the most part, but Saudi Arabia has put a lot of effort into spreading their Wahhabi brand of Islamic fundamentalism. People who are suffering anyway are easy marks for a fundamentalist theology that blames their problems on a satanic world system. Then, our foolish government and its even more foolish allies in Europe decided to overthrow the Khadafi government in Libya without providing for a stable successor state, and Libya’s enormous arsenal flooded into neighboring countries, along with experienced soldiers now out of work and prepared to ally themselves with Islamist groups. The Islamist groups can afford to pay for weapons and expertise because they have the financial support of, while not the Saudi government as such, plenty of Saudis and Emiratis with plenty of oil dollars. So they can stage these sorts of attacks on soft targets. National police forces and international advisors can do some things to hinder them and degrade their capacity to act, but not stop them completely. For the individual in these places, the key is to exercise good personal security. Stay out of the way; don’t go to places that might be targets, or minimize your exposure time if you do. Trust your local guides; if the guys at the bar say it is dangerous to be hanging out, don’t hang out. It is difficult to be truly inconspicuous if you are a white guy in a place like Burkina, but as much as possible, be inconspicuous; don’t drive a big Mercedes, don’t make a lot of noise and draw attention to yourself, and so on. I got through three years in Haiti where I was personally targeted by evilly-intentioned people, I can certainly survive a year here as a mere possible bit of collateral damage.
Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers on behalf of the Burkinabè suffering though this event. Thanks also to the governments of France and the US who are assisting the Burkina Faso government in its efforts to defend itself. And may God (whatever name we know him/her/them by) bless Burkina Faso!
Update: as of 1100 local time, the government is announcing that the siege is over. Here is a BBC piece. President Kaboré has visited the site of the attack and victims in the hospital. There are now 23 victims killed as well as four attackers, two of whom were women. They were apparently guests in the hotel and are described as Tuareg-looking. An earlier report from the Ministry of Security said there were six or seven attackers, including an Arab, so maybe it is not yet completely clear what has happened to all the attackers. There was also talk of people taking up positions at another nearby hotel. I’m going out for a bike ride after lunch but I’m going to stay away from downtown.