Two people were killed in a jihadist attack on a tourist resort outside the Malian capital Bamako on Sunday, while special forces troops freed about 20 hostages seized by the gunmen, the country’s security minister said.
“It is a jihadist attack. Malian special forces intervened and about 20 hostages have been released,” Salif Traoré said.
“Unfortunately for the moment there are two dead, including a Franco-Gabonese.”
Suspected jihadists stormed the tourist resort popular with Westerners on Sunday, the country’s security ministry said. Security forces were battling the attackers at the Kangaba resort after the assault, with nearby residents reporting hearing shots while smoke billowed into the air, with at least one building ablaze.
The Malian special forces were backed up by French and UN soldiers. The attack comes after a similar strike in November 2015 on a luxury hotel in Bamako.
Malian troops and soldiers from France’s Bakhane regional counter-terrorist force were surrounding the site, a resort boasting accommodation in hut-style rooms as well as restaurants and swimming pools.
The country has been battling a jihadist insurgency for several years, with Islamist fighters roaming the north and centre of Mali.
In November 2015, gunmen took guests and staff hostage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in a siege that left at least 20 people dead, including 14 foreigners.
That attack was claimed by al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). In March that year, a grenade and gun attack on La Terrasse nightclub in Bamako killed five people, including foreigners.
A state of emergency has been renewed several times since the Radisson Blu attack, most recently in April when it was extended for six months, but attacks are continuing.
In 2012 Mali’s north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda who hijacked an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising, though the Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013. But the jihadists have continued to mount numerous attacks on civilians and the army, as well as on French and UN forces still stationed there.
Sunday’s attack is the latest in a series of high-profile assaults in north and and west Africa targeting locals and tourists.
In January 2016, 30 people were killed, including many foreigners, in an attack on a top Burkina Faso hotel and a nearby restaurant in the capital Ouagadougou. Aqim claimed the assault, saying the gunmen were from the al-Murabitoun group of Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
In March 2016, at least 14 civilians and two special forces troops were killed when gunmen stormed the Ivorian beach resort of Grand-Bassam, which was also claimed by Aqim.
The UN has a 12 000-strong force known as Minusma in Mali, which began operations in 2013. It has been targeted constantly by jihadists, with dozens of peacekeepers killed.
France also has 4 000 soldiers in its Bakhane force in five countries – Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso – all of which are threatened by the jihadist threat across their porous borders.