NEWS

Burkina Faso Attack: Country Begins 3 Days Of Mourning

01/17/2016 08:01 EST | Updated 01/17/2016 08:59 EST

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Burkina Faso began three days of national mourning Sunday and the president said security would be stepped up in the capital and the country's borders after al-Qaida militants in a vehicle from neighbouring Niger killed at least 28 people in an attack on a hotel and cafe popular with foreigners.

In a message to the nation, President Roch Marc Christian 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.

The national mourning began Sunday, a day after Burkinabe and French forces ended a more than 12-hour siege at the upscale Splendid Hotel in downtown Ouagadougou. When the gunfire and explosions finally stopped, authorities said 18 were killed in the hotel and 10 were killed at the nearby Cappuccino Cafe.

burkina faso attack 2016

Investigators arrives at the Splendid hotel, on Jan. 17, 2016 in Ouagadougou, following a jihadist attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen late on Jan. 15. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Among the victims was a Ukrainian woman who was co-owner of the cafe with her Italian husband, Gaetano Santomenna, according to Ukrainian officials. Although Santomenna was not at the cafe and survived the attack, the couple's son, Michel Santomenna, 9, was killed, according to the Italian foreign ministry. Italy's foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, called the child's death "a horrendous crime,'' in a tweet which also expressed sympathy with the boy's father.

The toll also includes six Canadians, according to Canadian officials. Others killed include seven citizens of Burkina Faso, two Ukrainians, two Swiss, two French and one each from the U.S., Holland, Portugal and Libya, and one French-Ukrainian, according to Burkina Faso officials who released a partial list. Other bodies were being identified.

The American — Michael Riddering, 45, of Cooper City, Florida — had been working as a missionary in Burkina Faso since 2011, where he and his wife ran an orphanage that also provided shelter to abused women and widows. He is survived by his four children, two of whom were adopted from Burkina Faso.

White House National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price said Riddering "had devoted his life to working with the Burkinabe people'' in a statement strongly condemning the recent terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso and mourning those killed "in these senseless acts of violence.''

"He never stopped moving and never stopped helping.''

Riddering was "a wonderful, godly man'' who managed to find spare time to help teams of volunteers from other organizations who dug wells for local residents, said John Anderson, a board member of Sheltering Wings, Riddering's charity.

"During the Ebola crisis, when it was hard to find people to do the digging, Mike would go out and join them so they could continue doing the work,'' Anderson said. "And that's backbreaking work. He never stopped moving and never stopped helping.''

Swiss authorities said its two nationals who were killed were also in Burkina Faso for humanitarian reasons.

The al-Qaida group claiming responsibility for the carnage released an audio tape titled: "A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts.''

burkina faso attack 2016

A soldier stands behind a security barriere ouside the Splendid hotel, on Jan. 17, 2016 in Ouagadougou, following a jihadist attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen late on Jan. 15. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

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 to kill as many people as possible.

The attack, which began around 7:30 p.m. Friday, was the first of its kind in Burkina Faso, a largely Muslim country that had managed to avoid the kinds of jihadist attacks that have destabilized neighbouring Mali since 2012.

In a separate incident two Australian humanitarian workers were kidnapped by extremists in northern Burkina Faso. Surgeon Ken Elliott and his wife Jocelyn were abducted Friday. The couple, reported to be in their 80s, were kidnapped in the northern town of Djibo where they had run a medical centre for 40 years.

Also on HuffPost

  • Burkina Faso hotel attack
    AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    Special police forces are seen during search operations following an attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    Liberated hostages are escorted by special forces following an attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • Gunmen attack hotel in Burkina Faso
    Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Armored soldiers secure a street outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 15 January 2016.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Damaged building of Hotel Splendid where the attackers remain with gunfire continuing in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou on January 15, 2016.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    Armored soldiers secure a street outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 15 January 2016.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    An armored vehicle from the Burkina Faso army secures a street outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 15 January 2016.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    Burkina Faso's soldiers take position in the surroundings of the Splendid hotel following an attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    French special forces take position in the surroundings of the Splendid hotel following an attack by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    French special forces gather while taking position in the surroundings of the Splendid hotel and a restaurant during an attack on both the hotel and restaurant by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen early on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    French special forces take position by the Labour Ministry building in the surroundings of the Splendid hotel and a restaurant during an attack on both the hotel and restaurant by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen early on January 16, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    A wounded man receives medical care outside the Splendid hotel during an attack on both the hotel and a restaurant by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen late on January 15, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    Burkina Faso's soldiers evacuate an injured man (3rd L) from the Splendid hotel during an attack on both the hotel and a restaurant by Al-Qaeda linked gunmen late on January 15, 2016 in Ouagadougou.
  • NABILA EL HADAD via Getty Images
    A foreign survivor of the assault to the Cafe Cappuccino is assisted in Ouagadougou on January 15, 2016.
  • NABILA EL HADAD via Getty Images
    French first responders tend to wounded people in the surrounding of the hotel Splendide and the cafe.
  • NABILA EL HADAD via Getty Images
    French soldiers gather in the surrounding of the hotel and cafe.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    People gather on Kwame Nkruma avenue near Hotel Splendid where the attackers remain with sporadic gunfire continuing in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou on January 15, 2016.
  • AHMED OUOBA via Getty Images
    Burkina Faso's soldier stands near Hotel Splendid.