Security forces battled suspected Islamist fighters who were holding hostages at a hotel used by foreigners in Burkina Faso's capital this evening.

The gunmen stormed the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou's business district, burning cars outside and firing in the air to drive back crowds before security forces arrived, prompting an intense exchange of gunfire.

The hotel is sometimes used by French troops with Operation Barkhane, a force based in Chad and set up to combat Islamist militants across Africa's vast Sahel region.

"It is continuing at this time. We are trying to know how many attackers they are to better coordinate our actions. Hostages have been taken. The operation could take several hours," a senior official with the national gendarmes said.

A witness saw gunmen emerge from the hotel and fire into the air. A vehicle carrying security personnel arrived and shortly afterwards an intense gun battle began.

The landlocked West African state has endured bouts of political turmoil since October 2014 when veteran President Blaise Compaore was overthrown during mass protests. But it has been largely spared violence by Islamist militants. 

Islamist militants have staged attacks in a number of West African states bordering the Sahel in recent years.

Two Islamist militants killed 20 people from nations including Russia, China and the US at a luxury hotel in Mali's capital on 20 November 2015, before being killed by security forces.

Boko Haram have killed thousands in north-eastern Nigeria during a six-year insurgency and in 2015, the group extended its attacks into neighbouring countries Chad, Niger and Cameroon.