Friday, August 7

Gunmen lay siege to central Mali hotel

At least seven people, including four soldiers and two gunmen, were killed on Friday in an ongoing siege at a hotel in the Malian town of Sevare, where the attackers have also taken a number of hostages, the Malian army said.

Attackers stormed the Byblos hotel early on Friday in what military sources and local residents said appeared to be an attempt to kidnap Western hotel guests.

The hotel is reportedly popular with troops from the MINUSMA force (the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali). FRANCE 24 correspondent Ahmed El Kori in Bamako said that Ukrainian pilots from the force were present at the hotel when it was attacked.

Nationals from South Africa, France and Ukraine had also been in the hotel, Malian military spokesman Souleymane Dembele said in a text message.

“It is a hostage-taking,” another military source said, adding that two of the troops surrounding the Byblos hotel had been killed and another three injured.

A man wearing an explosives belt was shot dead, the source said, while the body of a white man was lying outside the hotel.

“It is still not over,” the source added.

Smoke rose from the hotel and heavy weapons fire was heard as government forces moved in to dislodge the gunmen, who raided the hotel near the airport in Sevare, around 600 kms (400 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, before 8am (GMT).

Malian troops were surrounding the hotel after what may have been an attempt to kidnap Western guests, the military sources said.

“The Fama (Malian armed forces) have sealed off the area… and the operation is still going on,” one military source told AFP from Gao, the main town in northern Mali.

A body could be seen lying sprawled in front of the hotel, the source added.

It is the third assault in just a week in the West African country, which is still struggling to restore stability despite a landmark peace deal agreed in June to end years of unrest, ethnic divisions and jihadist attacks, particularly in the north.

One resident said she had been woken early Friday by the sound of gunfire and was hiding out at her home with her family.

“The shooting is still going on but I don’t know who is shooting,” she told AFP.

Initial reports said the assault targeted another hotel, the Debo, but the military source in Gao said it was the Byblos that had come under attack.


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