At least six people have been killed, and several others taken hostage, following an Islamist attack at a hotel in central Mali.
Suspected Islamist militants attacked a hotel in central Mali used by U.N. staff, killing at least six people, taking others hostage and holding off troops encircling the building on Friday, residents and military sources said.
A Russian and a Ukrainian were among those being held inside the Byblos Hotel, officials from their countries said. There were up to eight other captives and South African and French citizens had also been staying there, government officials said.
The attack well south of the Islamic militants’ Saharan desert strongholds highlights the threat posed by remnants of an al Qaeda-linked insurgency that appears to be stepping up a campaign against Malian troops and United Nations personnel.
Friday’s violence began with a raid on a military site in the town of Sevare, around 600 km (400 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, that was successfully repelled by government troops, according to Mali’s U.N. peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA.
The attackers then stormed the hotel near the airport before 8 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT), according to witnesses.
Smoke rose from the hotel and heavy weapons fire rang out through the day as government forces attempted to dislodge the gunmen.
The body of a white male victim was visible in front of the hotel, a town resident said. Five Malian soldiers were killed in the clashes, Maiga said. Three attackers, one strapped with explosives, also died.
MINUSMA confirmed in a statement that one of its international employees was among the dead, but did not give the victim’s nationality. Sources with knowledge of an internal U.N. briefing said that two U.N. contractors remained missing.
Gunfire subsided by the early evening and soldiers surrounded the building in a tense standoff.
“The armed men have withdrawn inside the hotel and have taken the people inside hostage,” army spokesman Colonel Souleymane Maiga said. “The army is there at the site and we are looking for a solution that will preserve human life.”