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Explosions, gunfire rock Burkina Faso's capital in suspected attack by Islamic extremists

Explosions, gunfire rock Burkina Faso's capital in suspected attack by Islamic extremists
People watch black smoke rising during attacks on Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, on March 2. (Ahmed Ouoba / AFP/Getty Images)

Gunfire and explosions rocked Burkina Faso's capital early Friday in what the police said was a suspected attack by Islamic extremists.

By midday the gunfire became intermittent and helicopters flew over the French Embassy in Ouagadougou. Witnesses at the national television office, which faces the embassy, told the Associated Press that five people in a pickup truck pulled up in front of the embassy and started shooting after shouting "Allahu akbar." They then set fire to the truck, the witnesses said.

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Heavy smoke rose from the army joint chief of staff's office in Ouagadougou, and witnesses said loud explosions were still heard around the military headquarters in the western part of the city center and far from the other area under attack, which contains embassies, the prime minister's office and United Nations offices.

The police director general, Jean Bosco Kienou, told the AP "the form is that of a terrorist attack."

France's Foreign Affairs Ministry published a message on its website warning of gunfire in the capital, and said that security forces were intervening. It recommended that people stay off the streets and remain in a safe place.

Ouagadougou has been attacked by Islamic extremists targeting foreigners at least twice in the last few years.

In August, extremists opened fire as patrons dined at the Aziz Istanbul restaurant, killing at least 18 people. In January 2016, Islamic extremists attacked another cafe popular with foreigners in the capital, killing 30.

Both times security forces struggled to contain the violence, waiting for hours before intervening at the scene.

Islamic extremist threats moved into new parts of the country earlier this month with an attack by 10 people in an eastern town that killed a security officer and wounded two others. Increased attacks staged at the border with Mali have forced thousands to flee over the last year. An Australian doctor who had spent decades treating civilians was also abducted along this border and remains missing.

The region is also now the home of a Burkina Faso extremist figure, Malam Dicko, who has collaborated with militants in Mali. Among his objectives has been seeking to end the use of French, the former colonizer's language, in regional schools. Burkinabe forces backed by French troops have tried to capture Dicko but he remains at large.

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