Gunmen belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb stormed Burkina Faso hotel in the capital city of Ouagadougou.

At least 20 people died and others were taken hostage when Islamist gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital city of Burkina Faso on Friday, a hospital director told Reuters, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Security forces surrounded the Splendid Hotel and were awaiting orders to begin an assault to rescue the hostages and retake the building, which is frequented by Westerners, the country’s foreign minister Alpha Barry said in a telephone interview.

Medical personnel moved wounded away from the front of the hotel.

A U.S. defence official said that France had requested U.S. intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance support in the city and at least one U.S. military member in Burkina Faso was giving “advice and assistance” to French forces at the hotel.

The government has not ruled out calling for help from French special forces stationed in the country, Barry said in a telephone interview.

This is the first time Islamist militants have carried out an assault in the capital of Burkina Faso.

It follows a deadly raid on a luxury hotel in Mali last November in which two attackers killed 20 people including citizens of Russia, China and the United States. There have been attacks by militants in other countries in West Africa.

The assault in Ouagadougou began mid-evening and by 11 p.m. (23:00 GMT) the sounds of gunfire and explosions had died down.

“We have received around 15 wounded people. There are people with bullet wounds and people who are injured because of falls,” said Robert Sangare, director of Ouagadougou’s university hospital centre.

Sangare said one European woman being treated at the hospital told him the attackers appeared to target white people.

Burkinabe soldiers were backed by French special forces

Burkina_Faso130 hostages freed

Burkina Faso’s communications minister says about 30 hostages have been freed from the upscale hotel that was seized more than nine hours earlier by al-Qaida militants.

Minister Remis Dandjinou said early Saturday that among those evacuated from the Splendid Hotel was Public Works Minister Clement Sawadogo.

The hostages were freed by Burkina Faso security forces backed by French troops who are trying to secure the four—story hotel. An unknown number of hostages remain inside.