American Missionary Among At Least 23 Killed in al Qaeda-Linked Burkina Faso Attack

An American missionary was among nearly two dozen victims killed by Al Qaeda-linked militants in an attack on a luxury hotel in the capital of Burkina Faso.

At least 28 people were killed and 126 others were held hostage for hours by at least four militants in Ouagadougou, officials said.

The American missionary's body was identified by his wife on Saturday, according to family members. Mike Riddering, 45, worked with his wife Amy at Les Ailes de Refuge orphanage in Yako, a town about 100 kilometers northwest of the Ouagadougou.

Al Qaeda Militants Launch Deadly Attack in Burkina Faso 1:51

He leaves behind four children. "Heaven has gained a warrior," his wife, Amy Boyle Riddering, said in a post to Facebook Saturday. "Mike was an example in the way he lived and loved," she said.

Riddering had traveled to the capital with a colleague and was eating lunch at a local restaurant when militants attacked, according to a statement from Christian organization Sheltering Wings, which supported his mission.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the death of Riddering. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time, as they are with all those affected by this brutality," Kirby said in statement Saturday. He condemned the hotel attack and another attack in Burkina Faso's Tinakoff, where Kirby said two gendarmerie were killed.

Six Canadians, two French, two Swiss and a Dutch citizen are among the other victims, according to statements by their respective governments.

Mike Riddering
Mike Riddering, a missionary with Sheltering Wings, who was killed in the terrorist attack in Burkina Faso Friday. Jeff Riddering

Early Saturday, gunfire could still be heard around the Hotel Splendid in Ouagadougou as local forces backed by foreign soldiers battled to take back the building.

A spokesman for Special Operations Command Africa confirmed that American forces had assisted in recovery operations.

Maj. Nathan Broshear said U.S. military personnel worked alongside the Burkina Faso and French militaries in the operation. A small number of U.S. forces directly assisted in the hotel, he said, and were focused on rescuing the civilians, not engaging the assailants.

Four attackers were killed, three at the Splendid Hotel and one at a nearby hotel, security minister Simon Compaore told reporters.

The 126 hostages were freed after the morning call to prayer echoed across the city.

"We had just placed our meal orders in Cafe Cappuccino and around fifteen minutes later we heard gunshots," a French survivor told The Associated Press.

"They started to shoot at everyone. We dropped to the ground and as soon as anyone raised their heads they fired at them immediately. We had to play dead. They shook people by the foot to see if they were alive or not, and, if they were alive, they shot them."

The survivor, who did not give her name, added: "When they went upstairs, they set the place on fire and left via the roof. The room was completely on fire and it was impossible to breathe."

Image: Militant attack in Ouagadougou
The damaged vehicles from two car bombs sit outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Jan. 16. WOUTER ELSEN / EPA

A Slovenian woman who was in the Cappuccino restaurant said it at first seemed like the attack was "indiscriminate shooting," but then she realized the assailants were targeting white people.

"We heard shots, grenades, detonations. It was echoing and extremely loud ... They kept coming back and forth into Cappuccino. So you'd think 'It's over,' then they'd come back and shoot more people," the social anthropologist, who did not want her name to be used, told Reuters.

"They would come back and see if the white people were moving and then they would shoot them again," she said. "My friend had a dead white person on top of her, bleeding onto her. But his body saved her."

Washington condemned the attack and said the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou was "making every effort to account for U.S. citizens in the city."

A State Department statement added: "We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims during this senseless assault on innocent people.‎"

The attack echoed a similar siege at an upscale hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November that left 20 dead.

An al Qaeda affiliate known as AQIM, or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility online as the attack was ongoing in downtown Ouagadougou at the 147-room hotel, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Image: Militant attack in Ouagadougou
Soldiers take up positions outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Jan. 16 after militants attacked the hotel frequented by Westerners. AHMED YEMPABOU / EPA

In a message posted in Arabic on the extremists' "Muslim Africa" Telegram account, it said fighters "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." Fighters who spoke by phone later "asserted the fall of many dead Crusaders," AQIM said, according to SITE.

Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighboring Mali to aid in the rescue. France normally has up to 200 special forces troops in the country as part of a regional anti-militant operation.

Compaore said that 10 bodies were found inside the café, adding that the death toll of 23 could climb further as investigators searched the scene.

Two of the three attackers at the Splendid Hotel were female, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on national radio, although Gilles Thibault, the French Ambassador to Burkina Faso, said no female attackers were killed.

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Thibault also said that 150 people from 18 different countries had been treated after the attack.

In a separate development, an Australian doctor and his wife were kidnapped Friday night by extremists in Burkina Faso's north near its border with Mali, Abi Ouattara, Compaore said.

A security ministry spokeswoman originally said the couple was Austrian.

A journalist in the region said the Australian couple has lived there since 1972, volunteering in health services.

Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country, had for years been mostly spared from the violence carried out by Islamic extremist groups who were abducting foreigners for ransom in Mali and Niger. Last April, a Romanian national was kidnapped in an attack that was the first of its kind in Burkina Faso.