OUAGADO — The Al-Qaida fighters who stormed a popular hangout in Burkina Faso’s capital at dinnertime came with a mission to kill as many people as possible, survivors and officials said Saturday, firing at people even as they fled and setting the cafe ablaze. When the gunfire stopped after a more than 12-hour siege on the cafe and nearby hotel, at least 28 people had been slain in an unprecedented attack on this West African country long spared the jihadist violence experienced by its neighbors.

Like the extremist attacks from Paris to Jakarta, the assailants in the Friday evening attack targeted an area where people from different nationalities gathered to enjoy life. Here in Ouagadougou, the victims had been grabbing a drink outside or staying at one of the capital’s few upscale hotels. In this city with a large aid worker presence, the attackers sought to shoot as many non-Muslims as possible, screaming “Allahu akhbar” (Arabic for God is great) as they entered.

An audio tape later released by the al-Qaida group claiming responsibility for the carnage was entitled: “A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts.”

“We appeal to the people to be vigilant and brave because we must fight on,” President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on national radio Saturday. The North Africa branch of al-Qaida, founded in Algeria, claimed responsibility for the bloodbath in a series of statements published and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM – now working in tandem with extremist Moktar Belmoktar – later released an audio clip it said was a conversation with one of the fighters later slain in Ouagadougou.

The message said the attack was directed at “the occupiers of our lands, the looters of our wealth, and the abusers of our security,” according to SITE and sought to punish them “for their crimes against our people in Central Africa, Mali, and other lands of the Muslims, and to avenge our prophet.”

Burkina Faso is a largely Muslim country though it is home to many French nationals as a former colony of France. Islamic extremists have long targeted French interests, incensed by France’s military footprint on the continent more than a half century after independence. France led the military effort in 2013 to oust extremists from their seats of power in northern Mali, and continue to carry out counterterrorism activities across the Sahel region.

French special forces were also front and center early Saturday, as police and military forces fought to take back the Splendid Hotel.

The horror closely mirrored the siege of an upscale hotel in Bamako, Mali in November that left 20 people dead and shattered the sense of security in the capital of a nation whose countryside has long been scarred by extremism.

Burkina Faso was better known for the role its president played in mediating hostage releases when jihadists would seize foreigners for ransom in places like Niger or Mali. Now though, it appears Burkina, too, has been turned into a place where Westerners are at high risk.

Some analysts point to the security vacuum that has emerged in Burkina Faso since late 2014, when the longtime strongman leader fled power in a popular uprising. Members of the military jockeyed for power, and the country suffered through a short-lived coup before elections were allowed to go forward in November. Most in Burkina Faso recoil at the idea of extremism now taking hold here, adding to the woes of one of the poorest countries in the world.