Twelve people including a South African and another foreigner were killed in a hostage siege at a hotel in central Mali that ended when government troops stormed the building, the army said.
“There are 12 dead in all,” an army officer said early on Saturday, after the operation at the Hotel Byblos in Sevare, listing the fatalities as five “terrorists”, five soldiers and two foreigners.
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Earlier reports said that four hostages were also freed.
The UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) said in a statement that “reports indicate that a member of the international personnel associated with MINUSMA was killed in the attack”.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack which “led to the death of at least one UN contractor,” his spokesman said in a statement.
“This attack will not lessen the determination of the United Nations to accompany the Malian people in their efforts to implement the peace agreement,” the statement said.
Located only a few kilometres from the regional capital Mopti, Sevare, situated 620km northeast of Bamako, the capital, is a key staging post on the road to the desert north which fell to fighters in 2012.
Resurgence of violence
The siege started at around 7am (07:00 GMT) on Friday, according to the government.
Sources told AFP that three South Africans, a Frenchman and a Ukrainian had been registered at the hotel before the attack. A Russian diplomat said a Russian was among the hostages.
Another source said Malian Special Forces had rescued the hostages, including five foreigners “who were evacuated to Bamako”. The source was unable to specify their nationalities.
The UN mission said the initial target of the attack was a Malian military site.
A source told AFP that the Russian man “hidden inside the building” had supplied “useful information” to Malian forces during the siege.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as Mali battles a resurgence of violence, two years after a French-led offensive routed armed groups from most parts of the country.
France has more than 1,000 soldiers based in northern Mali.
The hotel attack was the third assault in just a week in Mali, which is still struggling to restore stability despite a landmark peace deal agreed in June to end years of unrest and ethnic divisions.
Armed groups have kidnapped a number of foreigners in Mali in recent years, at least two of whom are still being held hostage by Al-Qaeda’s front group in the region AQIM.