13 killed after gunmen take foreigners hostage in deadly Mali hotel attack

© Issouf Sanogo
At least 13 people, including five Mali soldiers, three gunmen and 4 unidentified men have been killed in an attack by militants on a hotel and an ensuring siege in central Mali.

Suspected Islamist militants attacked the hotel in the Malian town of Sevare, which is popular among foreigners, including the staff of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

The attackers, whose number was estimated at between five and eight, stormed the Byblos hotel early on Friday in what Malian military sources described as an attempt to kidnap foreign hotel guests.

The town of Sevare, lying more than 640 kilometers northeast from the country’s capital of Bamako, is situated near the main regional town of Mopti which itself if a key point of access to the northern Mali territories.

The alleged extremists barricaded themselves in the hotel and took “up to 10 people” hostage, the Malian army and the country’s defense spokesmen said on Friday.

“The armed men have withdrawn inside the hotel and taken the people inside hostage. The army is looking for a solution,” an army spokesman, Colonel Souleymane Maiga said, as quoted by Reuters.

A Mali army official told AFP from the capital Bamako that military operation had to be “delicate” because of the presence of the guests in the hotel.

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However, the rescue operation supported by the French military has been deemed a success. Mali authorities managed to free four hostages, including foreigners.

“It seems to be over and it has ended well,” Reuters cited Colonel Diaran Koné. “We freed the four hostages. But unfortunately we also found three bodies at the site,” said the colonel.

The identities and nationalities of the dead and the survivors were not specified.

Four workers – two South Africans, one Russian and one Ukrainian – were saved during the operation and taken to the UN’s office, where they are to stay while waiting to be transferred to Bamako.

The Russian embassy in Mali has confirmed that one of the rescused hostages is a Russian citizen, an employee of UTair air carrier, who has been already brought to a UN camp in Sevare.

“The situation is resolved. What’s important is he’s safe,” a diplomat told TASS.

Later on its website, the UN mission has made known that four UN workers were found dead: two Ukrainians, one South African and one Nepalese. An investigation is currently underway to establish the circumstances of their death.

According to the latest data from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, four Ukrainians were among the Byblos hotel’s hostages, one of whom has been reported dead.

One of the Ukrainian hostages managed to escape from the hotel and is now at MINUSMA’s office in Sevare.

This is the third assault in Mali in just a week with 11 Malian soldiers killed on Monday in an attack on the military camp in the Timbuktu region and two more killed on Saturday near the border with Mauritania.

Several Jihadi groups took control over the north of the West African country in 2012 but were later driven out by a French military operation which started in January 2013.

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.