A car in flames outside The Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Militants struck the popular upmarket hotel and a nearby cafe in Burkina Faso's capital late Friday, taking an unknown number of hostages and forcing others to hide for their lives.
Gunfire could still be heard three hours later as soldiers in an armored vehicle raced to the scene where cars had been set ablaze in suspected bombings.
Injured witnesses who were caught up in the shocking attack claim to have seen the bodies of around 20 victims before being brought to a nearby university hospital where they are recieving treatment.
Robert Sangare, director of Ouagadougou's university hospital centre, said: "We have received around 15 wounded people. There are people with bullet wounds and people who are injured because of falls,"
The capital has been rocked by gunfire and explosions
The local al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM claimed responsibility online while the attack was underway in downtown Ouagadougou at the 147-room Splendid Hotel.
A statement from the group said that fighters had "broke into a restaurant of one of the biggest hotels in the capital of Burkina Faso, and are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion."
Witness Vital Nounagnon said that he saw four men attack the hotel and the nearby Cappuccino Cafe about 7:30 p.m.
Another witness who gave only his first name, Gilbert, said that when Burkinabe security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.
"But we know that the gunmen won't get out of the hotel alive," he said. "Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong."
The Splendid Hotel is popular with Westerners and UN staff
Hostages have been taken. The operation could take several hours.
Senior official with the national gendarmes
A senior official with the national gendarmes, who asked not to be named, said: "It is continuing at this time.
"We are trying to know how many attackers they are to better coordinate our actions.
"Hostages have been taken.
"The operation could take several hours."
The capital of Burkina Faso has been rocked by explosions and gunfire
Burkina Faso has endured bouts of political turmoil since October 2014 when veteran President Blaise Compaore was overthrown in a popular protest, but has been largely spared violence by Islamist militants who have staged attacks in neighboring Mali.
Two militants killed 20 people from nations including Russia, China and the United States at a luxury hotel in Mali's capital on November 20, 2015, before being killed by the security forces.
Three Islamist groups including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed that attack, the most prominent by militants who are based in the north of the country and have staged a series of attacks over the last year.