The capital of Burkina Faso came under assault on Friday, with attacks unfolding at the French embassy, the French cultural centre and the country's military headquarters, an AFP reporter and witnesses said.
Four assailants were killed when they attacked the French embassy in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou, while the country's military headquarters was also targeted, the government said.
“Four attackers were neutralised,” it said in a statement posted on the government's Information Service website. “Special units of the defence and security forces have been deployed,” it said, adding that a complete toll was not immediately available.
The French embassy in Ougadougou initially published a message on Facebook that read: “Attack is ongoing at the French embassy and French Institute.”
The message also urged anyone caught up in the attack to stay “confined” where they were.
However that message was then taken down from Facebook and replaced by a message that read: “Attack underway in Ougadougou. Stay indoors. It is not certain at this stage which places have been targeted.”
French ambassador calls the attack in Ouagadougou a terrorist attack – gunfire and explosions heard in Ouagadougou centre – masked gunmen seen attacking army base.
— will ross (@willintune) March 2, 2018
Elite French soldiers were deployed to the area.
— Lettre du Continent (@LettreContinent) March 2, 2018
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.
— MENASTREAM (@MENASTREAM) March 2, 2018
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.
There appears to be an attack to a military HQ and some military camps in #Ouagadougou #BurkinaFaso at the moment. Shots are also being heard in the city. Image shows smoke coming from HQ. #Africa pic.twitter.com/HmenIqbwF2
— kambale (@kambale) March 2, 2018
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.
#Urgent, une attaque en cours au Burkina Faso vise l'ambassade de France, l'institut Français et l'Etat major de l'armée. Restez à couvert, en attendant que des solutions appropriées soient trouvés. https://t.co/sp0tJU3lWo pic.twitter.com/8efm2xAavx
— Huguette Tiegna (@HuguetteLREM46) March 2, 2018
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.
Responsiblity was claimed by a group called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is known by its French acronym of AQMI.
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 centre of the country.