An al-Qaeda-linked group has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a restaurant and bar in Mali’s capital, Bamako, according to Mauritanian news media.
A masked assailant sprayed bullets on Saturday into La Terrasse, a restaurant and bar that is popular with foreigners, killing five people, including a Frenchman and a Belgian.
Al Mourabitoun, or The Sentinels, a northern Mali armed group allied with al-Qaeda, said it was behind the violence in Bamako.
The claim of responsibility was carried on the Mauritanian news website Al-Akhbar, which often receives messages from Malian armed groups.
Al Mourabitoun was formed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian commander of al-Qaeda’s North African operations who said the attack was a reprisal “against the heathen West which has offended our prophet” and revenge for the killing of a leader of the Al Mourabitoun group in a French-Malian military operation.
The attack at La Terrasse, shocked Malians. In addition to those killed, nine people were wounded, including two experts for the UN mission, according to the UN stabilisation mission in Mali.
Armed groups seized control of northern Mali in 2012 with the aim of imposing Islamic law in the country.
French forces led a military operation in early 2013 that largely killed or scattered armed groups from the vast area they had controlled in northeastern Mali, and a stabilisation mission continues amid sporadic attacks.
Among survivors was Belmokhtar, the Algerian fighter who at one point was the southern chief of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, roaming the Sahel region before he broke with the affiliate.
The claim of responsibility said the Bamako attack was also a response to the December killing of Ahmed el Tilemsi, a founding member of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa that fused with forces loyal to Belmokhtar to form Al Mourabitoun.
Belmokhtar, widely thought to have taken refuge in Libya, has a reputation as the most dangerous man in the Sahara.
His loyalists led a brazen attack on a natural gas facility at Ain Amenas, Algeria, in January 2013, shortly after the French intervened in Mali.
The attack killed scores of foreign and Algerian employees.
Kidal UN base attacked
A day after the raid in Bamako, assailants launched a rocket attack on a UN base in Kidal in the countries northeast, killing two children and a UN peacekeeper, the UN mission in Mali said.
More than 30 rockets and shells hit the UN base, Radhia Achouri, a UN spokesperson, told Al Jazeera from Bamako. Another 14 people were wounded.
The peacekeeper was from Chad, and 11 of the wounded were peacekeepers, the UN said in a statement.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on Kidal on Sunday, but the armed group Ansar Dine claimed a similar attack against UN peacekeepers in Kidal in September 2014.
Kidal is located about 1,500km northeast of Bamako.
The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning Sunday’s attack “in the strongest terms” and urged the government in Mali to swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice.