Naharnet

Mali Hotel Reopens after Deadly Islamist Siege

Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Tuesday hailed the reopening of a luxury hotel at the center of a deadly Islamist attack, saying it was a victory over the scourge of jihadist violence.

Gunmen took guests and staff hostage at the 190-room Radisson Blu in Bamako on November 20 in a siege that left 20 people dead, most of them foreigners. The attack was later claimed by two extremist groups.

"This is a victory of life over the jihadists," Keita said as around 100 people gathered at a reopening ceremony for the refurbished hotel.

Keita paid tribute to three slain employees and the surviving staff, vowing to tighten security in the capital and promising: "We will continue to fight terrorism in the strongest terms."

Al-Murabitoun, an Al-Qaida affiliate led by notorious Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed it was behind the raid while another jihadist group from central Mali, the Macina Liberation Front, also claimed responsibility.

Days after the siege, Malian forces in Bamako arrested two people, but no further arrests have been made since.

Sources close to the inquiry say two other suspects are "actively" being sought.

Security has been beefed up since the attack with new gates installed at the Radisson's east and west entrances, more stringent vehicle searches and twice as many armed guards patrolling the grounds.

"Today we can say that the Radisson is the most secure hotel in the Malian capital," said an official from the Ministry of Security.

The pictures of the three staff killed in the attack were displayed in a reception room where the opening ceremony took place.

"We are thinking of our three comrades. We miss them. That is what hurts me," said a waiter who gave his name as Bintou.

Staff said the hotel had already taken around 15 bookings, including for Western clients.

In a separate development, jihadist group Ansar Dine on Tuesday claimed responsibility for an attack on a military post in central Mali, in a statement carried by private Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar.

The group founded by ex-Tuareg rebel chief Iyad Ag Ghaly claimed "several Malian soldiers were killed and wounded" in the attack on Sunday in Niono, some 350 kilometers (220 miles) from Bamako.

It had previously been reported that one Malian soldier was wounded in that attack and two were missing.

Mali has been plagued by unrest since the north of the vast west African state fell under the control of Tuareg rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaida in 2012.

The Islamists soon sidelined the Tuareg to take sole control of Gao, Timbuktu and other northern towns but lost most of the ground they had captured in a French-led military intervention in January 2013.

Nearly three years later, large swathes of Mali remain lawless despite a June peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels seen as crucial to ending decades of instability.

Source: Agence France Presse


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