BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A masked gunman sprayed bullets in a restaurant popular with foreigners in Mali's capital early Saturday, killing five people including a French person and a Belgian national, officials and witnesses said.
Al Mourabitoun, or The Sentinels, a northern Mali jihadist group allied with al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Mauritanian news website Al-Akhbar. It often receives messages from Malian extremists.
Nine people were wounded including two experts at the U.N. mission, said the U.N. stabilization mission in Mali in a statement. The two are Swiss soldiers and are being flown to Senegal for treatment, said the Swiss Defense Ministry.
Witness Ibrahim Coulibaly described the attack.
"I saw a masked person with a great weapon like a machine gun go up the stairs to the bar and at first I thought it was a joke, but a few second later, I heard a first shot. People started shouting and then came a burst of gunfire. It was then that I realized it was serious. I hid," said Coulibaly.
"Then the hooded man came down the stairs, past the bar, and he saw the Belgian citizen who was getting into his car and he shot him," said Coulibaly. "And then the attacker got in a car and left. He did not talk to anyone, he said nothing."
Another witness, Hamadou Dolo, gave a different account, saying he saw two gunmen run out of the establishment and jump into a car driven by an accomplice.
Mali's president and prime minister visited the scene and called it "a criminal and terrorist act." A government statement said an investigation has been opened and pledged to bring the perpetrators to book.
France and Belgium condemned the attack at La Terrasse, the restaurant and bar in Bamako, and their foreign ministers confirmed the deaths of their nationals.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders denounced a "cowardly act of terror." French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Frenchman killed was 31 years old. Fabius said "everything must be done to find those responsible for this crime."
The Belgian killed was a security officer for the European Union, said EU president Donald Tusk. "The European Union will not be intimidated by terrorism, at home or abroad," said Tusk. "We will remain steadfast in support of Mali and its people."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, currently visiting France, called the attack an act of cowardice. "In the end, that only strengthens our resolve to fight terrorism in all of its forms wherever it exists." Kerry said such acts don't intimidate but have the "exact opposite effect."
Two people who were at the scene were questioned to determine what happened, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Mali police investigators and French and U.N. police officers visited the scene Saturday.
La Terrasse is in Bamako's Hippodrome neighborhood where many expatriates live is a restaurant, bar and nightclub popular on a Friday night for salsa dancing.
French President Francois Hollande's office said security had immediately been tightened around French facilities. A statement from his office said the French embassy has set up a crisis cell to help expatriates in Bamako.
Hollande spoke with Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to show his support on Saturday. Hollande and the Malian president "decided on common measures to strengthen security in Mali," a statement from the French president's office said without elaborating on measures. They also looked at ways to cooperate in the investigation.
France immediately opened a judicial inquiry, a standard procedure when a citizen is killed which allows French officials to carry out a parallel investigation, according to a judicial official in Paris who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak on the matter.
The U.N. Security Council, in a press statement issued Saturday, "condemned in the strongest terms" the terrorist attack in Bamako and called on the government of Mali "to swiftly investigate this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice."
French forces led a military operation in early 2013 that largely expelled al-Qaida-linked extremists from a vast area they had controlled in northeastern Mali. The military operation in that region continues, and sporadic combat and clashes take place there. Violence has been rare in Bamako despite the continued upheaval in the north.
AP writers Jamey Keaten and Matthew Lee in Paris, Raf Casert in Riga, Latvia and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.