An al Qaeda affiliate has claimed responsibility for an attack on a luxury resort popular with Western expatriates outside the Malian capital Bamako in which four people were killed, the U.S. SITE monitoring group said on Monday.
The monitoring group cited the militants’ al-Zallaqa Media Foundation as saying in a statement on its Telegram channel that al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Mali, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, had said the attack bears a message to the “Crusaders” that they will never be safe in the country
Gunmen suspected to be Islamic militants, killed four guests at a Mali luxury resort popular with Western expatriates just outside the capital Bamako on Monday, one other guest is still missing.
The assailants stormed the hotel on Sunday afternoon, opening fire on guests and exchanging fire with security forces deployed to try to free those trapped inside.
One of the dead from Sunday’s attack was a Portuguese soldier working with the European Union (EU) military training mission, Portugal’s Armed Forces and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini confirmed.
Mali’s security ministry had earlier identified one of the victims as French-Gabonese. A security source said a third victim was Cameroonian and that the fourth had yet to be identified. France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the missing person was a French national.
Although the attackers succeeded in mounting a lethal attack, security forces backed by French and U.N. troops managed to rescue 36 residents including 13 French citizens.
Security Minister Salif Traore told Radio France International on Monday that “five terrorists were killed” in operations that continued throughout the night.
“This was without doubt a terrorist attack,” he told the radio station.
The resort was still cordoned off by late morning on Monday as a Malian anti-terrorist squad combed the area for the missing person, a Reuters witness said. A U.N. mission helicopter was circling overhead.
Traore said the militants had accomplices who had not been killed or detained.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
French troops and a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force have been battling to stabilize Mali, a former French colony, ever since France intervened in 2013 to push back jihadists and allied Tuareg rebels who had taken over the country’s desert north a year earlier.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb and other Islamist groups have claimed increasingly frequent attacks on Western targets in Mali and the wider West Africa region, including a raid on a Bamako hotel in late 2015 which killed 20 people.
But analysts said security forces appeared to have responded quicker this time than in previous such attacks.
“One thing is sure: they are becoming more responsive,” said Adam Thiam, a Malian analyst and expert on the conflict. He said this was partly because an elite counter-terrorism unit was now properly up and running.
“They’re specialized in this kind of operation,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to the leader of Mali after the attack and pledged his country’s full support for the country, Macron’s office said on Monday.
“France condemns with utmost firmness this murderous attack,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that Malian and French authorities were “continuing their checks to determine the possible presence of French nationals among the victims. Research is underway to find a compatriot reported missing”.
The African Union condemned the attack and reiterated its commitment to support Mali in combating terrorism.
“I am tired, shocked. I have no other words to say,” the resort owner Manou Morgane, a French national, told Reuters TV overnight. “All I want to do is to see the list of my clients. I want to find them (anyone missing).”