The siege of a popular hotel in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, is over after security forces stormed the hotel which was under siege since Friday evening, the country's interior minister has said.

At least 27 people, including four assailants, have been killed and 126 hostages freed in the operation backed by the French forces to retake the Splendid Hotel, in the city centre, security officials have told Associated Press news agency.

"They started shooting, shooting and everybody lay down on the ground,” Mariette Kineou, a witness who was in the Cappuccino Cafe opposite hotel Splendid, told Reuters.

"As soon as you lifted your head you would get shot straight away so you had to pretend to be dead and they even came to touch our feet to check if we were alive… "

Interior Minister Simon Compaore told Reuters news agency that victims belonged to 18 different countries. Security officials said that two of the attackers were women.

Compaore said that 33 of the freed hostages were being treated for injuries, adding that security operations were continuing to flush out gunmen holed up in a nearby hotel.

Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said the attack - the first such assault in Ouagadougou - was "cowardly and vile".

He told Associated Press on Saturday that that a fourth gunman was killed at the nearby Yidi hotel.

On Friday, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union, condemned the "despicable and cowardly" attack and expressed her solidarity with the government and people of Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso attack: Operation to end siege under way

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack, SITE Intelligence Group, a monitoring organisation, reported.

The 147-room Splendid Hotel, which is popular with foreigners and diplomats, was stormed by the gunmen on Friday night after the nearby Cappuccino Cafe was struck by heavy gunfire.

In a separate development, Burkina Faso's Communications Minister Remi Dandjinou said on Saturday that a couple abducted in the country's north are Australian nationals, correcting an interior ministry statement earlier that they were Austrian.

The couple were kidnapped in Baraboule, near Burkina Faso's borders with Niger and Mali, AFP reported.

In November, gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako, and took at least 170 people hostage. The attack left 19 people killed.

Burkina Faso elected Kabore as its new president in a historic votein November, becoming the West African country's first new leader in decades.

President Kabore speaks to journalists at the site of the attack in Ouagadougou on Saturday [Reuters]

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies