Suspected jihadists attack hotel in central Mali town
Suspected jihadists carried out a late-night attack on a hotel in central Mali several days after the town was visited by the country's prime minister, officials said on Thursday, adding that at least one assailant was killed.
The security ministry and the army said attackers late on Wednesday struck the Falaise hotel in the town of Bandiagara, a former tourist magnet in the heart of Mali's picturesque Dogon Country.
Two assailants were killed and two other people were injured, the ministry said.
In contrast, the army said one attacker was killed and three others fled, while a soldier and one civilian were wounded.
Reinforcements have been sent to the town, the army said.
A witness told AFP that "at least five assailants" approached the hotel on foot while firing their weapons.
A gunfight ensued between soldiers and the attackers, the witness said, adding that he saw "a jihadist and a Malian soldier on the ground (who) weren't moving."
Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga had visited Bandiagara on Monday, the final day of a tour of the largely desert country's most dangerous regions.
The unrest in the former French colony stems from a 2012 Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north.
Although French forces removed the Al-Qaeda-linked groups from places such as Timbuktu, the groups have morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
That insurgency has since spread to the country's centre, where local grievances are exploited by the Islamists in a region awash with guns.
On Sunday Maiga addressed a reconciliation meeting between leaders of the Fulani and Dogon ethnic groups attended by more than 1 000 people.
Clashes between the pastoral Fulani and the agrarian Dogon have claimed at least 25 lives since the beginning of the month.