Al Qaeda attacks hotel in Burkina Faso

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A brigade of Katibat al Murabitoon in AQIM

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, has claimed responsibility for an attack today on a popular hotel in the West African country of Burkina Faso. The attack is still ongoing in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou as of publishing of this story and the number of casualties has not yet been confirmed. Burkina Faso is located south of Mali and has suffered some spillover of the conflict there.

According to the BBC, the attack began with two car bombs detonating near the Splendid Hotel and an assault team attacking the perimeter after the blasts. In addition to the hotel, a nearby restaurant is also said to have been targeted by the jihadists. Hostages are also thought to be involved, but reports have varied on the total number. The Splendid Hotel is a popular hotel with UN staff, French and Western military personnel, and other Westerners.

In statement released online, AQIM’s Africa Muslim account said that “your mujahideen brothers in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Katibat al Murabitoon have broken into a restaurant in the one of the biggest hotels in Burkina Faso and are now holed up in the hotel and clashes are continuing with the enemies of Islam.”

The attack in Ouagadougou is similar to AQIM and Al Murabitoon’s attack in Mali’s capital of Bamako in November. In that attack, the jihadists stormed the Radisson Blue in Bamako, killing 22 civilians and taking more than 100 people hostage before being killed in a joint raid led by Malian forces. Al Murabitoon said it was responsible in conjunction with the “Sahara Emirate” of AQIM, according to a statement sent to Al Jazeera. In August, Al Murabitoon attacked a hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare, killing 12.

The attack in Bamako heralded the reintigration of Al Murabitoon into AQIM. On Dec. 4, AQIM’s Al Andalus Media released an audio statement from Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, announcing the merger of Al Murabitoon into its ranks. The same statement also said that the Bamako attack was the first joint assault carried out by the two.

Al Murabitoon is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran African jihadist who is openly loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri and has denounced the Islamic State. Belmokhtar was originally a commander in AQIM before splitting with the group over personal disagreements with Droukdel and other leaders. Belmokhtar and his followers have been behind several spectacular attacks in West Africa over the past several years, including the January 2013 suicide assault on the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria, and the May 2013 suicide assaults in Niger which targeted a military barracks and uranium mine.

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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