Mali Tightens Security After Islamist-Militant Attack on Hotel

  • Authorities reportedly hunting three suspects in attack
  • Al-Qaeda-linked groups claim responsibility, 22 dead

Mali tightened security in the capital as investigators searched for al-Qaeda-linked militants suspected of carrying out an attack on a luxury hotel that killed 22 people, many of them foreigners.

Police and soldiers stood guard outside hotels, diplomatic missions and other key buildings in the capital, Bamako, Fode Sissoko, head of security for strategic locations at the Internal Security Ministry, said in a phone interview Saturday. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita declared a 10-day state of emergency and three days of national mourning after an extraordinary cabinet meeting late Friday.

The raid came a week after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in a series of shootings and explosions in Paris, the worst atrocity in Europe in almost a decade. Mali is a former French colony.

Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako
Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako
Photographer: Habibou Kouyate/AFP via Getty Images

As many as 170 people were in the Radisson hotel when gunmen burst into the lobby Friday morning spraying gunfire. Hours later, troops stormed the hotel and moved room to room evacuating guests. French and U.S. security forces aided the operation.

The attack was carried out by two men armed with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades, Sissoko said. Among those killed were 18 civilians, a policeman and the attackers, he said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said six of its citizens died in the raid, while China’s government said three Chinese were killed. An American citizen was also among the dead, the U.S. State Department said.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech in Kuala Lumpur, extended his “deepest condolences” to the families of those killed in Mali.

“We’re still working to account for Americans’’ who were at the hotel, Obama said.

The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack, saying the world must use all means to combat the threats that terrorist acts pose to global stability. The council earlier unanimously endorsed a resolution urging nations to fight Islamic State.

Jihadist Violence

Africa has seen some of the worst jihadist violence. Militant groups in Somalia and Nigeria, the continent’s largest oil producer, carry out regular assaults on civilians and government officials. In Kenya, their attacks on a shopping mall and university in the past two years captured international headlines.

Mali is Africa’s fourth-biggest gold producer. Companies including AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world’s third-largest miner of the metal, Randgold Resources Ltd. and Endeavour Mining Corp. have operations in the West African nation.

The country was plunged into violence after a military coup in March 2012 left a power vacuum that allowed Islamist militants to join with separatists and seize the north of the country. While French forces pushed the militants out of most of those strongholds in 2013, the government is struggling to regain authority there. At least 40 UN peacekeepers have been killed in hit-and-run attacks in the north since the mission began two years ago, making it the most deadly peacekeeping operation globally.

Al-Qaeda Claim

Al-Qaeda in Maghreb and the militant Mourabitoune group claimed joint responsibility for Friday’s attack. The Mali authorities are hunting for at least three people suspected of having links to the raid, Agence France-Presse reported.

“It’s too early to say if there were accomplices and how many there were,” Sissoko said. “But it seems like an operation that could not have been done without help.”

Mourabitoune and its leader, the one-eyed former Algerian soldier Mokhtar Belmokhtar, are best known for an attack on an Algerian gas plant in 2013 that killed more than a dozen hostages. Belmokhtar’s death has been reported more than once, though never confirmed. He’s probably behind the Mali attack, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday.

Mali’s government "continues to exercise limited or no control over vast stretches of the northern territories and the jihadis have no interest in negotiating," Sean Smith, West Africa political risk analyst with Verisk Maplecroft, said in an e-mail.

"The state’s security apparatus is especially weak and Bamako will remain highly vulnerable to terrorist incidents for the foreseeable future," Smith said.

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