Mali battles gunmen in capital as Islamists hit Iraq, Yemen

With the means we have in the area, we will do what is possible to obtain the freedom of the hostages— Francois Hollande,French President  

he raid on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, which lies just west of the city centre near government ministries and diplomatic offices, comes a week after Islamic State militants killed 129 people in Paris.

The identity of the Bamako gunmen, or the group to which they belong, is not known. One security source said as many as 10 gunmen had stormed the building, although the company that runs the hotel, Rezidor Group, said it understood that there were only two attackers.

The hotel’s head of security, Seydou Dembele, said two private security guards had been shot in the legs in the early stages of the assault. “We saw two of the attackers. One was wearing a balaclava. The other was black-skinned. They forced the first barrier,” Mr. Dembele told Reuters.

Within minutes of the assault, police and then soldiers had surrounded the hotel and were blocking roads leading into the neighbourhood.

Sporadic attacks

The attack is not the first such incident occurring in the West African country. Despite a French intervention in its former colony in 2013, Islamists rebels, who have bases in the North, have continued in the country’s central belt on the southern reaches of the Sahara, and in Bamako.

An Islamist group claimed responsibility for the death of five people last March in an attack on a restaurant in Bamako that is popular with foreigners.

And in August, 17 people were killed during an attack on a hotel in Sevare in central Mali, some 600 km northeast of Bamako, which was claimed by the Sahara-based Islamist militant group al-Mourabitoun.

The dead in Sevare included nine civilians, five of whom worked for the U.N. mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as four Malian soldiers and four militants.

In the wake of last week’s Paris attacks, an Islamic State militant in Syria told Reuters the organisation viewed France's military intervention in Mali as another reason to attack France and French interests. “This is just the beginning. We also haven't forgotten what happened in Mali,” said the non-Syrian fighter, who was contacted online by Reuters. “The bitterness from Mali, the arrogance of the French, will not be forgotten at all.”

France said it was despatching 50 elite counter-terrorism officers to Bamako imminently.

France has more than 1,000 troops in Mali, a key battleground of Operaton Barkhane, a counter-terror operation spanning five countries in Africa’s restive Sahel region.

Islamist groups have continued to wage attacks in Mali despite a June peace deal between former Tuareg rebels in the country’s north and rival pro-government armed groups. The country’s north fell under the control of Tuareg rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in mid-2012.

— Agencies

With the means we have in the area, we will do what is possible to obtain the freedom of the hostages

— Francois Hollande,French President