BURKINA FASO - CANADIAN FAMILY ON HUMANITARIAN MISSION MURDERED
Six Canadians died in a bloody terror attack on a luxury hotel and cafe in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, that killed at least 28 and injured countless others over the weekend.
In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "On behalf of all Canadians, we offer our deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of all those killed and a speedy recovery to all those injured. We are deeply saddened by these senseless acts of violence on innocent civilians.
"We have offered assistance to the Burkinabé authorities in their investigation of this terrible crime."
All of the Canadian victims are from Quebec. Four of them are from the same family, and had been in the country for nearly a month to aid in the construction of a school.
Recently retired teacher Yves Carrier, 65, and his wife Gladys Chamberland, who worked for the national resources ministry, were killed along with their son, Charlelie, and Carrier's daughter, Maude. The family lived in Lac-Beauport, in the Quebec City region.
The two other Canadian victims were their friends and humanitarian work companions, Louis Chabot‚ who worked as a teacher with Maude, and Suzanne Bernie, both also from Quebec.
According to reports, the family and friends had just completed their work on the school when the attack occurred. The group had left Quebec for Africa in December on behalf of the Congrégation des sœurs de Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours along with two other volunteers, according to reports.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Trudeau led a moment of silence to honour the victims of the Burkina Faso while he was speaking at a restored mosque in Peterborough, On., that was firebombed in the aftermath of the deadly attacks in Paris in November.
The attack Friday by multiple people in Ouagadougou started with explosions and hostage taking at about 7:30 p.m., targeting the Splendid Hotel, the nearby Cappuccino Cafe and another hotel. A 12-hour standoff lasted through the night and well into Saturday, with the siege ending after local and French security forces stormed the hotels, killing at least four of the attackers.
Two of the three attackers were identified as female, the Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said in a national radio address.
Al-Qaida linked militant group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack while it was ongoing. The same extremist group was behind a similar siege at an upscale hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November that left 20 dead.
On Sunday, French authorities were back at the scene carrying out a forensic investigation. Special forces from the former colonizer came during the overnight siege from their base in neighbouring Mali to help Burkina Faso's military put an end to the killings.
Some guests returned to the Splendid Hotel to pick up their luggage and other belongings left behind when guests fled for their lives when the gunmen began firing at about 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Roger Nikiema, a Burkinabe who was meeting friends at the Café Cappuccino in Ouagadougou on Friday, said they had just placed their order when the gunfire started.
"We all threw ourselves on the floor," he said in an interview. "I was with six friends, three American girls and three guys. A bullet hit my arm and I have an injury there. I heard a female voice among the attackers."
Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose and Foreign Affairs critic Tony Clement called it a "senseless" act on Saturday.
"On behalf of the Conservative caucus we send our condolences to the families of the 23 victims of this senseless act of terror, and in particular, are keeping the Canadian victims in our thoughts and prayers," said Ambrose and Clement, noting this attack comes on the heels of a report of another Canadian killed by a terror attack linked to the jihadist Islamic State earlier this week in Jakarta.
"There is no doubt that Canada and Canadians are at risk in the face of this global threat against our values and our way of life. While we offer our sympathies, we also need to know that the Government of Canada is taking every measure to protect our citizens at home and abroad from the threat of terrorism," the statement by Ambrose and Clement said.
The government in Burkina Faso said 28 people were killed and 56 were injured in the attack. Burkina Faso began three days of official national mourning on Sunday and planned to step up security in its capital and along its borders.
In a message to the nation, President Kabore said the people of Burkina Faso must unite in the fight against terrorism. He also announced on the national broadcaster, Burkina 24, that security forces would be stepping up their efforts to thwart future attacks and asked people to comply with the new restrictions.
"These truly barbaric criminal acts carried out against innocent people, claimed by the criminal organization al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) seek to destabilize our country and its republican institutions, and to undermine efforts to build a democratic, quiet and prosperous nation," said Kabore.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of International Development and La Francophonie, said in a statement the attack was "yet again another reminder of the danger terrorism poses around the world and the need to work with partners to deal with global threats."
"On behalf of the Government of Canada, we extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those killed in yesterday's attack in Ouagadougou, among them Canadian aid workers and volunteers, and wish a speedy recovery to those injured," the statement read.
"Canada condemns in the strongest terms any act that threatens the safety of civilians, including those who strive to improve the lives of vulnerable people around the world. Working in challenging and dangerous situations, their efforts to create lasting ties between peoples while building a more just and peaceful world will never cease."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wrote on Twitter: "We are all saddened to hear of the deaths of six people from Quebec in the Burkina Faso terrorist attacks."
On Sunday, Pope Francis offered a prayer for the victims of the attacks in Burkina Faso and Indonesia, and that the international community's efforts toward building peace find support.
Canada updated a travel advisory for its citizens on Saturday afternoon, advising Canadians in the area to exercise a high degree of caution in the country. It only advises against travel in the area near the border with Mali, north of the Tougan-Ouhigouya-Djibo-Dori line (up to the Niger border), and within 80 kilometres of the rest of the border with Mali, making note of the recent kidnapping of westerners in the region and the terror attack in Ouagadougou. It also notes there is an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in effect.
Among the dead: • Six Quebecers: Yves Carrier, his daughter Maude and his wife Gladys Chamberland and their son, Charlelie, and friends Louis Chabot and Suzane Bernier; • Seven Burkinabé citizens; • Two French nationals, and one more, according to French officials; • A French-Ukrainian; • Two Swiss citizens in the country doing humanitarian work, who had been in the café that came under attack; • One 67-year-old Dutch volunteer, according to the Dutch foreign ministry; • One citizen each from Portugal and Libya; • An American missionary, Mike Riddering, whose death was announced by his wife Amy on Facebook and later confirmed by the U.S. State Department. • Four members of a Ukrainian family, according to Ukraine representatives, including a woman who co-owned the Cappuccino Cafe targeted during the attack, and Michel, her nine-year-old son. Her sister and mother might also be among the dead, according to Ukrainian websites.
The woman's husband, Italian national Gaetan Santomenna, was not at the café at the time of the attack and survived.
In a separate incident two Australian humanitarian workers, surgeon Ken Elliott and his wife Jocelyn, were kidnapped by extremists at Djibo, in northern Burkina Faso on Friday. The couple, reported to be in their 80s, had run a medical centre in the area for 40 years.
Officials said on Sunday that identification of the wounded and dead may take some time due to the number of bodies.
The attack showed al-Qaida's growing ability to strike far from its traditional field of operations in northern Mali where it's been fighting government troops, French soldiers and United Nations peacekeepers, backed by U.S. intelligence officials and special forces. President François Hollande has sent soldiers and fighter planes to former French colonies in Africa to repel the Islamists, whose attacks intensified in the semi-arid Sahel region with arms looted from Libya following the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's government in 2011.
"I think it's just a matter of time, whether it's in Abidjan, Accra, or Dakar," Cynthia Ohayon, Burkina Faso analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said by phone from Ouagadougou. "It happens in Paris and in Istanbul; it can happen anywhere."
The latest attack came a day after al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia claimed to have killed 63 Kenyan soldiers in the southwest of the Horn of Africa country and two days after Islamic State said it carried out a gun-and-suicide bomb assault in central Jakarta, Indonesia.
As they did when they attacked the Radisson Blu in Mali, the militants said their latest raid was done in response to French intervention in the region that has led to the death of Muslims, according to a statement it sent to Mauritania's al-Akhbar newspaper on Friday. AQIM disavowed Islamic State last week, saying the group's caliphate in Syria is illegal and strays from the tenets of Islam.
"We killed 30 of the crusaders," one of the attackers in Ouagadougou said in a recorded message sent to the newspaper. Al-Qaida "will fight against France until the last drop of blood."
AQIM and other militant groups stepped up their advance in northern Mali after a coup by the army in 2012 created a power vacuum.
From its start in 2013, France's military drive against the Islamists has expanded to almost 3,000 troops fighting militants from Mali to Niger and Chad, where the Nigerian group Boko Haram is active. AQIM's Belmokhtar is believed responsible for the 2013 attack on a BP PLC plant in Algeria that left 38 dead.
Government officials in the region say militants and traffickers compete with each other to move drugs, goods and migrants through the Sahel and the Sahara, which is hard to patrol because of its desert-like temperatures and lack of roads.
Burkina Faso, Africa's fourth-largest gold producer, has faced political instability in recent years. Formerly known as the Republic of Upper Volta, President Blaise Compaore was ousted in October 2014 after 27 years in power following widespread public demonstrations against him. A failed coup followed in September, and in November elections, Kabore was voted into the presidency.
"The new government was appointed three days ago; the president took office two weeks ago," said Ohayon of International Crisis Group. "There was a wave of optimism and this attack has dealt a huge blow to that.
"Burkina Faso serves as a symbol of progress in the region, because it's an example of democratic consolidation and peaceful religious coexistence — and I think that's what they want to destroy."