Soldiers late Friday surrounded a central Mali hotel where at least 10 gunmen were holed up with hostages, witnesses said, after a daylong standoff that left a number of locals, foreigners and Malian soldiers dead.
The United Nations sent peacekeepers to Mali in April 2013 to guard against militant Islamists who threatened to move on the West African nation’s capital, Bamako.
Another resident, who did not want to be named, said the gunmen seemed to be targeting the air force base and the hotels.
“The attackers are still inside the hotel”, a Sevare resident told Reuters, adding he could hear heavy gunfire and the explosions of rocket-propelled grenades. The source was unable to specify their nationalities.
A military source confirmed that a number of people were held hostage.
French President Francois Hollande said French citizens could also “possibly” be caught up in the attack, while South Africa said it was “aware of the situation”.
A military spokesman said on Thursday five people had been arrested in connection with the attack.
Malian soldiers engaged the suspected al-Qaida-linked militants in a raging gun battle at the Byblos hotel in Sevare, around 400 miles north-east of the capital Bamako. The death toll now is three dead soldiers and four wounded, ‘ the source said Friday evening.
“‘As far as we know, there are several gunmen there who are holding this hotel, ‘ the diplomat added, while saying it was unclear whether the hostages were being held at gunpoint or the attackers were merely ‘sheltering there”. The Ansar Dine extremist group later said it was behind those attacks. “Now that it has come to Sevare we are all traumatized”, Napo said.
“The Government of the Republic of Mali condemns in the strongest terms this cowardly and barbaric attack against the peaceful citizens of Mali and friends present on the national territory”, it said.
The Malian military and the government are now trying to restore stability in the region amid the ongoing extremist attacks that have been spreading from north to the center and south of the country since the beginning of the year.
Militants led by a group known as al-Qaeda in the Magreb took control of vast areas of Mali in 2012 before being driven back by a French-led military force.