In the wake of the 15 January attack on a hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, hotels across the West African region, from Dakar to N’Djamena, are strengthening security, adding armed guards and increasing cooperation with the local authorities as a pair of high-profile attacks have exposed the growing Islamist threat to foreign travellers.
On Friday 15 January, al-Qaeda fighters killed thirty people at a hotel and restaurant in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The assaults, which was the country’s first militant attack on such a scale, came just two months after Islamist militants killed twenty people at a Radisson Blu Hotel in neighbouring Bamako, the capital of Mali. Despite intelligence agencies and security experts warning that further such attacks may occur in West Africa, both incidents have demonstrated that militant groups operating in the region are expanding their areas of operations. Furthermore, both attacks likely mark a new strategy by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies, including al-Murabitoun.
In both instances, the attacks targeted establishments that were popular with Westerners, dozens of whom were taken hostage. Witnesses at the scene of the attack in Ouagadougou also reported that the gunmen singled out white foreigners for execution. In the wake of this growing threat, high-end hotels in major cities across the region have been quick to react. Analysts have warned that Abidjan and Dakar, the largest cities in Ivory Coast and Senegal, are viewed as particularly attractive to Islamist militants because of their large Western expatriate population coupled with a stead flow of tourists and business travellers. However analysts have noted that they have no information on specific threats in either city. This however has not prevented local officials from taking the necessary precautions. At the Sofitel Hotel Ivoire, which is one of Ivory Coast’s most luxurious hotels, uniformed police officers were posted around the grounds. Furthermore, the use of metal detectors and body searches have been increased while guard dogs have been used in order to help patrol the lobby. Meanwhile in Senegal, gendarmes have been deployed at roundabouts and on major streets in neighbourhoods that are popular with Westerners. Well before the attacks in Ouagadougou, Dakar’s Radisson Blu installed additional cameras both inside and outside, ordered vehicle barriers and increased security personnel. According to the hotel’s general manager, Jorgen Jorgensen, “of course, there is always a risk, but I can assure you that we have in place all the precautions to control the building in the most professional way.” In the Chadian capital of N’Djamena, which was hit by deadly attacks by Islamist militants in June and July, the government has called upon hotels to carry out car and body searches as well as increase their collaboration with local authorities.
As at 21:50 hrs GMT Friday 15 Jan 16 FLASH TRAFFIC. On Friday evening, gunfire and explosions were heard in the central part of Ouagadougou. Witnesses have reported seeing three gunmen near the Splendid Hotel, which is located in a busy district of the capital and frequented by United Nations officials and westerners. A car was also set on fire in front of the hotel. Unconfirmed reports of car bomb(s). The “Cappuccino” cafe located across the hotel is also believed to have been targeted.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that there is a hostage situation in the hotel.
This situation is not confirmed as over. Do not journey into the centre of Ouagadougou until it is confirmed safe to do so. Shelter in a safe place. Account for all expat and local national personnel.
Expect heavy military presence in the coming days including vehicle checkpoints and increased controls at and near airport and other potential iconic targets. Be prepared for potential disruption to flight schedules. Liaise with embassies for additional information when practical.
The attack on the hotel comes just weeks after warnings of such attacks in the wake of the attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.
The leader of the country’s short-lived coup was in police custody after he handed himself in as authorities ramped up a probe into last month’s putsch.
Sources have reported that General Gilbert Diendere, who had indicated several times that he was willing to face justice following the 17 September coup, was being held at the Paspanga police base, which is located near the centre of the capital. News of his arrest was met with cheers on the streets of Ouagadougou. On Tuesday, the general sought refuge at the residence of the Vatican’s ambassador just before an army raid on the barracks of his elite military regiment. In a statement, the interim government disclosed that “general Diendere and his accomplices will answer for all the offences of which they are accused,” adding that a commission of inquiry was already “hard at work” investigating the coup. A military source has disclosed that military justice will deal with General Diendere. On Wednesday, six officers who took part in the coup were arrested while lieutenant colonel Mamadou Bamba, who had read the coup plotters’ statements on television, handed himself over to police the following day. Interim authorities have accused General Diendere, who has been involved in several negotiations for hostages held by Tuareg groups in the Sahel region, of “mobilizing foreign forces and jihadis groups” in the coup. He has rejected these allegations.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the vice president of a Tuareg rebel movement, Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, was briefly arrested at Ouagadougou airport over suspected links to the coup. According to a source, Djeri Maiga, the vice president of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), “was arrested over allegations that he provided logistical support to the coup.” He was held Thursday afternoon at Ouagadougou airport as he tried to board a plane to leave the country. He was released after several hours.
According to a senior army source, a majority of troops from the presidential guard (RSP) had joined loyalist units after their regiment was disbanded under the peace agreement and assigned to other unites. A source in the army high command has disclosed that more than 800 men of the RSP’s 1,300-strong force have taken up new postings, adding that the remainder are being sought. The military source indicated that those who have yet to join loyalist forces have until Friday in order to show up at their new postings, adding that if they fail to do so, they “will be considered deserters.”
On Tuesday, Burkina Faso’s soldiers met little resistance as they entered a presidential guard camp in the capital where members of the elite unit were holding out after this month’s short-lived coup.
Residents of the Ouaga 2000 district in the capital city have reported hearing bursts of gunfire in the late afternoon as troops, who had surrounded the base for most of the day, moved in. A source, who was in command of part of the operation, has reported that General Gilbert Diendere, the leader of the coup, was not in the camp. The officer further disclosed that “…We don’t totally control the camp, but we’re carrying out clean-up operations,” adding that Diendere’s vehicle had been destroyed by soldiers near the diplomatic compound and that the general is believed to have sought refuge inside.
Earlier in the day, an army spokesman had reported that about 300 of the presidential guard’s estimated 1,200 soldiers had surrendered at a second camp in the capital city, adding that regular army troops had taken control of strategic locations that had previously been occupied by the renegades.
A week after a military takeover, Burkina Faso’s interim President Michel Kafando announced on Wednesday that he is back in charge and that civilian rule has been restored. His announcement however came as coup leader General Gilbert Diendere went to welcome a number of African leaders arriving to oversee the transfer of power. Overnight, his presidential guard agreed to a deal with the regular army in a bid to avoid further violence. They also pledged to return to their barracks and the army to withdraw from the capital Ouagadougou.
Speaking to reporters at the foreign ministry, Kafando confirmed that he has “…returned to work.” However at around the same time, around 5 km (3 miles) away, coup leader General Gilbert Diendere appeared at the aiport, where he was backed by a continent of his presidential guard, to welcome regional leaders arriving to try to negotiate an end to the crisis. Sources have reported that Interim President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida will mark their return to power in an official handover ceremony in Ouagadougou later on Wednesday, adding that until then, Diendere will remain in power. The two leaders were arrested by members of the presidential guard a week ago.
In recent days, the country’s army deployed troops into the capital in a bid to press Diendere and his soldiers to cede power. The military threatened to disarm them by force if they failed to step down. While troops loyal to the government, who had arrived in the capital from bases across the country, were not visible on the streets of Ouagadougou, presidential guard soldiers maintained their positions at the national television headquarters despite an agreement signed over night between the two sides, under which they were to be confined to barracks in order to avoid clashes.