OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Al-Qaida militants struck an upscale hotel and nearby cafe late Friday that are popular with Westerners in Burkina Faso’s capital, taking an unknown number of hostages and forcing others to hide for their lives as gunfire and explosions rang out. The country’s troops backed by French forces were still trying to retake control of the building eight hours later.

It was not immediately known how many people may have been killed during the siege, though a survivor told hospital director Robert Sangare he estimated the toll could be as high as 20. At least 15 other people were seriously wounded by bullets and undergoing treatment at the Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital, he said.

The local al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM claimed responsibility online as the attack was ongoing in downtown Ouagadougou at the 147-room Splendid Hotel, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

In a message posted in Arabic on the militants’ “Muslim Africa” Telegram account, it said fighters had “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.

In the early morning hours, French forces arrived in Ouagadougou from neighboring Mali to aid the effort. Burkinabe soldiers already had stormed the building, at one point briefly setting part of the building ablaze with their explosives.

Cars in front of the hotel also had been set on fire by the attackers, who stormed the bustling area downtown Friday evening.

Witness Vital Nounagnon told the AP that he saw four men wearing turbans attack the hotel and neighboring Cappuccino Cafe about 7:30 p.m. Another witness who gave only his first name, Gilbert, said that when Burkinabe security forces first arrived, they turned around rather than confront the attackers.

“But we know that the gunmen won’t get out of the hotel alive,” he said. “Our country is not for jihadists or terrorists. They got it wrong.”

Burkina Faso is a largely Muslim country that has for years been mostly spared from the violence carried out by Islamic extremist groups.