Bamako – Gunmen stormed a hotel hosting an EU military training mission in Mali’s capital, before one was killed by security guards, the government and a mission source said.
Four attackers stormed the hotel owned by Mali’s “Azalai” chain at around 1830 GMT, the EU mission source said, before they escaped under return fire from security guards.
“Four people tried to force their way through the barricade firing shots,” the European Union Training Mission-Mali (EUTM) source told AFP.
“One of the four was neutralised, we are searching for the three others.”
Police showed AFP a photo they said was of the dead attacker, who was pictured wearing blue jeans and slumped in a pool of his own blood.
A Malian security source said troops were hunting a possible suicide bomber thought to be “in the vicinity of the EUTM headquarters”.
Minister of Internal Security Salif Traore said two suspects had been arrested and forces were securing the area, in the same upmarket neighbourhood as the Radisson Blu hotel where 20 people were killed by jihadists in November.
“One of the attackers was killed… We are checking the bag he was carrying, which could contain explosives, and security forces are also doing their job,” he said on television.
“Two suspects were arrested. They are about to be questioned. Operations are continuing on the ground,” he said, adding that there were thought to be “two or three” attackers.
The area was cordoned off and armoured vehicles belonging to the UN and Malian military were on the scene, where an operation to find the escaped gunmen was still ongoing.
“I heard heavy gunfire behind the hotel. Then Malian troops blocked off the area,” a witness told AFP.
– Extremist groups –
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which comes at a time of heightened concern about the growing threat from jihadists in west Africa.
An advisor to Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita called for calm and described the situation as “under control”. “Security forces are on the front line,” he said in a text.
The EU training mission aims to reinforce the Malian army’s ability to engage in combat operations as they battle a jihadist insurgency and rampant banditry across vast swathes of the desert nation.
An EU foreign affairs representative said in a statement sent to AFP they were “cooperating with the Malian national authorities to understand the circumstances of this incident and to help find the persons responsible.”
The EUTM mission draws on expertise from 25 countries with more than 600 personnel.
French and UN forces are also attempting to back up the army, but extremist groups are using new methods to spread terror after being ousted from key northern towns following a French-led intervention in 2013.
Northern Mali fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012, and the government has been unable to maintain security with domestic forces alone.
Since being chased from northern Mali, the jihadists have staged sporadic attacks on the country’s military forces and the UN peacekeeping mission based in the country, killing dozens.
More recently they have turned to more spectacular civilian targets, with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claiming responsibility for three recent attacks in west Africa.
The group claimed a shooting rampage in a beach resort in Ivory Coast this month and another in Burkina Faso in January, as well as the Radisson Blu killings in Bamako in November.