'Each time I heard gunfire, I prayed to God': Survivors recall Burkina Faso attack

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso -- As al-Qaida fighters attacked the cafe where he worked, Clement Djiguende was saved by chance: A jihadist who had been firing at patrons simply ran out of bullets.

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The gun stuck for a moment. Then the militant, dressed in black and a turban, tried several times to reload. That's when Djiguende and another server bolted toward the bathrooms not far from the bar where only moments earlier they had been serving cold drinks on just another Friday night.

About 20 other people were already crowding into the toilets in a bid to save their lives as the sound of gunfire resumed at the Cappuccino Cafe. Others tried to climb through the restaurant's broken windows. Some managed to get to the roof where they waited for the carnage to stop.

On the cafe's large outdoor terrace, "wounded people were crying out in pain," the bartender recalled. "The jihadists then started killing the wounded."

At least 10 of the 28 victims of the Ouagadougou attacks lost their lives at the cafe that night, including the Ukrainian wife and son of the restaurant's owner, officials confirmed. An American missionary who ran an orphanage in Burkina Faso was also killed while meeting with a local pastor at the cafe.

An audio tape later released by the North Africa affiliate of al-Qaida that claimed responsibility for the carnage was titled: "A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts." The attackers arrived in a vehicle with license plates from neighbouring Niger and spoke with an Arabic accent when screaming in French, witnesses said.

The cafe had long been a popular hangout in Ouagadougou, with a menu of Western dishes and a bakery that sold birthday cakes and pastries, among other items.

Witnesses said four attackers stormed the cafe around 7:30 p.m. Not only did they shoot at patrons, they also created another deathtrap by setting the cafe ablaze.

Soon it began filling with smoke, forcing Djiguende and the others in the restrooms to wet pieces of their clothing in the sink to cover their faces as they tried to escape by crouching close to the ground. Heat from the flames had broken the huge windows, and people were trying to crawl out without getting cut by the glass.

"Upon reaching the terrace, my hand touched a body, but oddly enough, I kept it together," he said. "Then I crossed another and then a third body, where I laid and pretended for a while that I too was dead."

After getting out, Djiguende kept crawling for another 6 yards (meters) beyond the restaurant before springing to his feet and running into another nearby restaurant that had not been attacked.

By then, the jihadists had entered the neighbouring Splendid Hotel. Andre Bationo, a waiter at the hotel, said he was cleaning in the dining room when a girl selling handicrafts to guests burst in to say that jihadists were killing people outside.

He ran to an employee room by the kitchen but found the door locked. Panicking, he made his way into a bathroom. Bationo turned off all the lights, laid down on his stomach and waited.

"I heard people crying and running in every direction in the hallways, but then the sound of gunfire became very loud," he said.

It was an al-Qaida fighter, who flung open the door to the bathroom and tried to turn the light on.

"I heard a little 'click-click,' but the light wasn't coming on very quickly," Bationo said.

The fighter pulled out a flashlight and his cellphone, then made a call speaking loudly in a language that Bationo didn't understand. After a few minutes, the jihadi went back into the hotel, and gunfire rang out for several minutes before he returned.

Bationo, who suffers from high blood pressure, was certain if the al-Qaida militant didn't kill him, the stress of him coming in and out of the hiding spot several times surely would.

"Each time I heard gunfire, I prayed to God. And each time the sound of weapons stopped, I kept hope that I would get out of here alive," he recalled. "I stayed there lying on my stomach until 6 a.m., when the French soldiers came and forced me to leave."

French special forces and troops from Burkina Faso searched the hotel throughout the night, looking for the attackers and any explosives they may have left behind. Witnesses said the assailants had fled to another restaurant in the neighbourhood.

Ultimately, all four people believed responsible for the attack were killed. Three of the bodies were found at the Taxi Brousse restaurant.

On Sunday, guests who had fled for their lives returned to the hotel to collect their belongings. The nearby Cappuccino Cafe stood in ruins.

The attack destroyed not only the place where Djiguende worked but also any sense of security he had far from the violence in neighbouring Mali.

"Burkina Faso," he said, "will never be the same again."


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