Attack in Mali sign of spreading extremist violence

2015-08-08 22:24
(File: AFP)

(File: AFP)

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Bamako - The first attack by Islamic extremists in a central Mali town, in which nine people were killed, shows that jihadist aggressions are spreading in the country and hitting more directly at the government military and the UN peacekeeping force, an expert said on Saturday.

Additional UN personnel may still be missing, said a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of lack of authorization to speak to the press.

The militants first targeted the army camp in Sevare on Friday but when they faced resistance they moved to the nearby Hotel Debo before assaulting the Hotel Byblos, popular with UN staff, to take hostages, said a Mali government report, according to the UN official.

Sevare, a garrison town about 600km northeast of the capital, Bamako, is at the heart of Mali's tourism industry and up until now had not been targeted in the attacks more common in the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu.

"It's a troubling sign that the armed Islamist groups are intent on stepping up the pressure both on the Malian government and on the UN and French presence," said Bruce Whitehouse, Mali expert and associate professor at Lehigh University.

"They want to show they are not just contained within the north and that they're not afraid to confront their primary enemies where they're strongest."

Whitehouse said the attack was likely intended "to signal all Malians everywhere that neither their government nor the UN can keep them safe," but noted the rapid response by Mali's forces.

The attackers may be elements of Amadou Koufa, a leader who has been linked to attacks on Mali's army including a January attack that killed 10 soldiers in Nampala, said Col. Souleymane Maiga, chief spokesman for the military.

The four rescued UN employees are two South Africans, a Russian and a Ukrainian, said UN mission in Mali spokesperson Radhia Achouri.

"Our contractors survived because at no time was their presence discovered by the terrorists in the hotel," she said adding there was not much resistance Saturday morning during the rescue by special forces.

South African killed

The 12 dead include three civilians, five Malian soldiers, a UN contractor and three attackers, according to the UN and Lieutenant Colonel Diarran Kone.

A 38-year-old South African who died in the attack worked for an aviation company that was assisting the UN contingent in Mali, Nelson Kgwete, spokesperson for South Africa's foreign ministry, said on Twitter.

Four citizens of Ukraine were among those captured during the attack and one of them was killed, said the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. One of the Ukrainians escaped, while the two others were freed during the operation and are safe, the ministry statement said.

The government said on Friday that forces detained seven suspected militants.

Islamic extremists took over Mali's north in 2012. A French-led offensive ousted them from the northern cities in early 2013. Remnants of the extremists have staged attacks on UN peacekeepers and Malian forces.

Mali's jihadi groups have been stepping up their attacks further south. The most recent extremist attack in the capital occurred in March when masked gunman opened fire in a restaurant popular with foreigners, killing five people.

Read more on:    mali  |  north africa

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