19 June 2017

Mali: Death Toll Rises in Mali Attack

Photo: Reuters TV
Police with four people rescued from the Le Campement Kangaba resort following an attack where gunmen stormed the resort in Dougourakoro, to the east of the capital Bamako, Mali.

Four people died in the Sunday attack at the Malian luxury resort Campement Kangaba in the outskirts of the capital Bamako. One guest is still missing.

According to security sources, one of the victims of Sunday's attack was Portuguese and the other Cameroonian. Two deaths had been previously confirmed, one of them identified as French-Gabonese. The source said the fourth victim had not been identified.

Security forces backed by French and UN troops mobilized quickly when the attack was underway on Sunday, rescuing 36 residents including 13 French citizens. While there is no certainty yet about the number of assailants, Mali's Security Minister Salif Traore said that at least five had been shot dead.

So far there was no claim of responsibility. But Malian authorities were in no doubt that this was a terrorist operation by jihadis. In the last couple of years, Islamist groups in the Sahel region have often targeted resorts frequented by Westerners. The latest, and one of the deadliest happened in March 2016 at Grand-Bassam resort in Ivory Coast, where 19 people died, including eight foreigners. The same month, another attack took place in Mali at a hotel patronized by the members of the European Union mission charged with training the Malian army (EUTM Mali). At the time, one assailant was killed.

Westerners targeted

Those at the resort when the attack began included people affiliated with the French military mission, Operation Barkhane, as well as the UN (MINUSMA) and European Union missions in the country, said a UN official on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

Some of the people evacuated said that the assailants had cried "God is great" in Arabic as they started firing their guns. A witness told journalists that he saw one man arriving on a motorcycle, and started shooting into the crowd. He was followed by "two or three others in a car," the witness said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who will travel to Bamako on July 2nd to attend the summit of the Sahel G5 consisting of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, said he was "following the situation very closely." Other governments are worried too: on June 9th, the US embassy warned its citizens against an "increased threat" against locations frequented by Westerners in Bamako.

Attacks on the increase

Mali has been in a state of emergency almost continuously since the attack against a five-star hotel in the capital on November 20th, 2015, which left 22 people dead. That attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) together with an Algerian jihadist group. Later in March, five people, including two Westerners, died in an attack against a restaurant in Bamako.

The north of Mali fell to jihadist rebels associated to al-Qaida in the spring of 2012. At the beginning of 2013, an international military intervention led by the French army succeeded in chasing most rebels from the region. That mission is still ongoing. Only in January of this year, the German parliament voted in favor of expanding Bundeswehr's military presence in Mali from 650 to 1,000 soldiers. The troops form part of a UN-mission tasked with securing the peace in the embattled north of the country.

But there are wide areas of the country which are not under the control of Malian or international troops. In spite of a peace agreement signed in late spring of 2015 with other rebel forces, which aimed at isolating the jihadists, attacks remain frequent while the pact awaits implementation. Since 2015, the attacks, once confined to the north, have been extended to the south of Mali and to neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Niger. The militants often target Malian forces and peacekeepers, making this the deadliest mission in the world.

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