Five killed in Mali jihadist nightclub attack
Five people including two Europeans and a Malian policeman died in an assault claimed by an Islamist group on a Bamako nightclub Saturday, the first attack targeting Westerners in a city braced for jihadist violence since 2012.
At least one masked gunman entered the club popular with foreigners in the Malian capital around 1:00 am (0100 GMT) and sprayed the venue with automatic gunfire and threw grenades, witnesses said.
A spokesman for Al-Murabitoun, a jihadist group run by leading Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility in an audio recording carried by Mauritanian news agency Al-Akbar, which frequently publishes what it says are statements from jihadist groups.
"We claim responsibility for the latest operation in Bamako carried out by brave combatants from Al-Murabitoun to avenge our prophet against the unbelieving West which has insulted and mocked him," the recording said.
Mali's government described the massacre as a "terrorist" attack by "those who have no other goal than to push away the prospect of peace" -- a statement seen as referring to jihadists who operate across swaths of the desert north.
- Masked killer -
Customers of La Terrasse, in the lively Hippodrome district, said the masked assailant arrived in a black four-wheel drive vehicle and headed to the upstairs restaurant and bar area to begin shooting.
As he left he lobbed two grenades at a security patrol and one went off, killing a policeman, witnesses said.
"The killer came here because there were foreigners. He wanted to kill foreigners, that's for sure," a waiter at the venue told AFP.
Malian police and the United Nations MINUSMA peacekeeping force said a French national, a Belgian and three Malians had died in the attack.
The Frenchman was named as 30-year-old Fabien Guyomard, a single man with no children, who had lived in Bamako since 2007 and worked at ICMS Africa, a US company specialising in luxury construction.
Hospital sources said eight people were wounded, including three Swiss nationals, one of them a woman.
Two of the Swiss were weapons experts advising the Malian government as part of international aid. They were in critical, but stable condition after being hit by bullets, the Swiss military said in Geneva.
In the moments after the attack an AFP correspondent witnessed the French victim being stretchered out of the venue while the bodies of the police officer, a guard and the Belgian could be seen outside.
"They reportedly shouted 'death to whites' on entering the restaurant... It sounds like an attack against the presence of Europeans. Then they apparently targeted the French national," a diplomatic source said.
- International outcry -
Dozens of police officers secured the area but witnesses were initially refusing to testify, fearing reprisals.
Police announced they had arrested two Malians soon after but later said the pair were not involved, describing them as "not terrorists, but bandits".
French President Francois Hollande condemned the "cowardly attack", vowing to meet Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to offer Paris's help to its former colony.
The two leaders agreed on "joint measures to strengthen security in Mali" in a discussion also focusing on the investigation into the attack, a statement from Hollande's office said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the act of "opening fire on a restaurant filled with innocent civilians only strengthens our resolve to fight terrorism in all its forms wherever it lives".
The United Nations Security Council added its condemnation "in the strongest possible terms."
The Belgian victim had been working for the European Union in Mali, where the 28-nation bloc runs a mission to assist police and national guard forces, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said.
- Militant uprisings -
Mali's vast desert north is riven by ethnic rivalries and an Islamist insurgency.
Jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda controlled an area of desert the size of Texas for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention in 2013 that partly drove them from the region.
The west African nation is also struggling with a militant Tuareg movement that has launched four uprisings since 1962 to fight the army over the territory they claim as their homeland and call Azawad.
But day-to-day life in the capital has been largely unaffected by the northern conflict and bloodshed blamed on terrorism is rare in the city of 1.8 million.
"It's the first attack of this type in Bamako," said Pierre Boilley, an analyst specialising in sub-Saharan Africa.
Saturday's attack came less than 24 hours after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Mali's Tuareg rebel groups to sign a peace deal agreed nearly a week ago in Algeria.
The Malian government signed the agreement last weekend, along with some northern armed groups, but the main Tuareg rebel alliance, known as the Coordination, asked for more time.
In a gruesome sign of the ongoing volatility in the north, two suspected bombers were lynched and their bodies burned by a mob in Gao, the region's largest town, on Saturday.
Photos circulated on social media showing the two burnt bodies.
© 2015 AFP