Mali deepens probe after deadly attack on luxury hotel

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 22, 2015 5:53 PM

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali said on Sunday that investigators were following "several leads" after 19 people were killed in an attack on a luxury hotel claimed by two jihadist groups.

Islamist militants' most deadly strike on the West African country in years ended on Friday when Malian commandos stormed the Radisson Blue hotel after an eight-hour siege and freed 170 hostages.

But two days after the attack, for which responsibility has been claimed by both Al Mourabitoun and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), little more has been revealed on the identity of the attackers.

"Several leads are being followed. The hotel that was attacked is being combed through carefully," according to a statement on state television.

A Malian intelligence agent said that a total of 13 foreigners were killed, including six Russians, three Chinese, two Belgians, an American and a Senegalese.

Israeli media had earlier reported one dead, but the Malian source was not able to confirm the information.

President Ibrahim Bouba Keita has said that both gunmen at the hotel were killed on site although an eye witness had previously said there was at least one additional attacker.

Former colonial power France is assisting with the probe and has sent in a team of elite investigators to assist.

The bloodshed in the capital Bamako is the latest sign of deepening insecurity in the West African country. Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda seized the desert north in 2012 but were scattered by a French military operation a year later.

However, jihadists have stepped up attacks this year on Western and Malian targets beyond their traditional desert bases. In August, they stormed a hotel in central Mali in August, killing at least 12 people in an attack similar to Friday's.

Mali, along with neighbors across the 15-nation West African ECOWAS regional block, will begin three days of national mourning on Monday.

Senegal's president, Macky Sall, the current chairman of ECOWAS, arrived in the capital on Sunday to express condolences and vowed to help its neighbor fight terrorism.

"Mali will never be alone," said Sall. "We stand together with Mali and together we will lead the fight."

(Reporting by Adama Diarra and Joe Penney; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)