Twelve killed in Mali hotel siege
Twelve people including a South African and another foreigner were killed in a hostage siege at a hotel in central Mali that ended early Saturday when government troops stormed the building, the army said.
“There are 12 dead in all,” an army officer told AFP after the operation at the Hotel Byblos in Sevare, listing the fatalities as five “terrorists”, five soldiers and two “white people”.
The body of one of the foreign victims had lain in front of the hotel since Friday when the gunmen stormed the building, the officer said.
South Africa’s foreign ministry said a 38-year-old man from Pretoria was killed in the siege while two other South Africans were safe.
Local media identified the man as Roelof Janse van Rensburg. A foreign ministry spokesman said he was working for an aviation company hired by the United Nations contingent in Mali.
A source told AFP that “a number of hostages” had been freed from the hotel, including five foreigners, although their nationalities were not specified.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack which “led to the death of at least one UN contractor,” his spokesman said in a statement.
“This attack will not lessen the determination of the United Nations to accompany the Malian people in their efforts to implement the peace agreement,” the statement said, referring to the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.
Located a few kilometres from the regional capital Mopti, Sevare is a key staging post on the road to Mali’s desert north which fell to Islamic extremists in 2012.
Sources said three South Africans, a Frenchman and a Ukrainian had been registered at the hotel at the time of the attack. A Russian diplomat said a Russian was among the hostages.
– Military site targeted –
A source told AFP that a Russian man “hidden inside the building” had supplied “useful information” to Malian forces during the siege.
Gunmen had burst into the hotel at around 7:00 am (0700 GMT) on Friday, according to the government. At least one of the attackers was said to be wearing a belt of explosives.
Malian forces cordoned off the area but their efforts to dislodge the attackers were complicated by the presence of hostages.
There were exchanges of fire throughout Friday and the army brought the siege to an end early Saturday, with one source saying foreign special forces were also involved.
The UN mission said the initial target of the attack was a Malian military site.
“The attackers, who were pushed back by the Malian Armed Forces, then took refuge in a hotel,” MINUSMA said.
A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Mali told the RIA Novosti press agency that the Russian hostage was an employee of UTAir, an aviation company that works with the UN peacekeeping mission.
A Ukrainian hostage managed to escape from the hotel and said up to five gunmen had led the hostage-taking in Sevare, which lies 620 kilometres (385 miles) south of the capital Bamako.
“Life has returned to normal” on Saturday in Sevare, a local lawmaker told AFP, adding that people had come out on the streets.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as Mali battles a resurgence in jihadist violence, two years after a French-led offensive routed three Islamist factions from most parts of the country.
France has more than 1,000 soldiers based in northern Mali as part of regional anti-terrorist efforts.
The hotel attack was the third assault in just a week in Mali, which is still struggling to restore stability despite a landmark peace deal agreed in June to end years of unrest and ethnic divisions.
Islamist militants have kidnapped a number of foreigners in Mali in recent years, at least two of whom are still being held hostage by Al-Qaeda’s front group in the region AQIM.