Saturday, 8 August 2015

Five UN workers killed in Mali hotel siege

 Malian security forces patrolling in Goundam back in June

Two Ukrainians, a Nepalese and a South African have died along with their local driver after terrorists stormed a hotel south of Bamako

Malian security forces patrolling in Goundam back in June  Photo:
Malian security forces on Saturday stormed a hotel used by United Nations staff and freed four hostages held there by suspected Islamist militants, during a nearly 24-hour siege. Twelve people died in the siege - among them two Ukrainians, a Nepalese and a South African. The South African was a 38-year-old pilot from Pretoria. The gunmen had seized the Byblos Hotel in the town of Sevare, 400 miles northeast of the west African nation's capital Bamako, early on Friday and held off government troops who quickly surrounded the building. The attack, far to the south of the Islamist militants' traditional desert strongholds, was the latest in what appears to be a growing campaign against Malian soldiers and UN personnel by remnants of an al Qaeda-linked insurgency. "It's a troubling sign that the armed Islamist groups are intent on stepping up the pressure both on the Malian government and on the UN and French presence," said Bruce Whitehouse, Mali expert and associate professor at Lehigh University. "They want to show they are not just contained within the north and that they're not afraid to confront their primary enemies where they're strongest." Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for Mali's UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, said four UN contractors - two from South Africa along with a Russian and a Ukrainian - had been freed in the pre-dawn raid by security forces."At no point were they discovered by the terrorists in the hotel. They were hiding," she said. Five soldiers and four gunmen, including one who officials earlier said was strapped with explosives, were also killed. Seven suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack, according to a government statement released late on Friday. A 2013 French-led military operation drove back Islamist fighters,whohad taken advantage of an ethnic Tuareg rebellion and a military coup to seize territory in the north a year earlier. While the United Nations has managed to broker a tenuous peace agreement between the government and Tuareg separatists, Islamist fighters left out of the negotiations have mounted an insurgency. Former colonial ruler France and other Western and regional nations fear Islamist fighters could turn the remote region into a launch pad for attacks further a field if they regain power there.

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