By Lawrence Audu
— MENASTREAM (@MENASTREAM) March 2, 2018
The capital of Burkina Faso came under assault on Friday, with attacks unfolding near the French embassy, the French cultural centre and the country’s military headquarters, witnesses said.
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.
Heavy exchanges of gunfire have been heard and a blazing vehicle seen, which witnesses said was the car used by the assailants. Police and army units have been deployed in the area.
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.
Burkina Faso is one of a string of fragile countries on the southern rim of the Sahara that are battling jihadist groups.
Just as news of the attacks filtered through the social media, the French Ambassador Xavier Lapdecab twitted a warning asking residence to be cautious.
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.