NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Sahara-based Islamist militant group al-Mourabitoun has claimed responsibility for a hotel siege in central Mali at the weekend in which 17 people died, Qatari-based television network Al Jazeera reported on Monday.
The attack began early on Friday and ended nearly 24 hours later when security forces stormed the building in the city of Sevare, some 600 km (375 miles) northeast of the Malian capital Bamako.
The dead included nine civilians, five of whom worked for the U.N. mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as four Malian soldiers and four militants.
Al Jazeera said on its website it had received a brief statement from the organization founded by veteran Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar claiming responsibility.
There was no independent confirmation from the group, which is linked to al Qaeda and has been behind several attacks against Western interests in the Sahel region.
"Elements of the Al-Murabitoun group which follows Al Qaeda, following a lengthy period of surveillance and diligence, managed to carry out the operation in the city of Sevare, and specifically on the Byblos Hotel, which was inhabited by Western nationals," al Jazeera quoted the statement as saying.
"We will issue a subsequent statement with full details of the operation," the group said.
In March, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on a restaurant in Bamako that killed five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian security officer.
Belmokhtar's men and members of al Qaeda's north African arm, AQIM, formed a loose alliance of fighters that seized northern Mali's desert regions in 2012.
The militants were scattered by a French offensive in January 2013 but pockets of insurgents remain and have continued to carry out sporadic attacks despite the presence of some 3,000 French troops in the region and several thousand U.N. peacekeepers in Mali.
(Reporting by Kissima Diagana in Nouakchott and Noah Browning; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Gareth Jones)