Mali releases photos of slain gunmen in hotel attack
BAMAKO, Mali — State media broadcast photos Monday of the two slain attackers of a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, appealing for anyone who knew them to come forward with information about the gunmen.
The photos of the two young men were taken after Friday’s rampage at the Radisson Blu hotel in which 19 people were killed, said Capt. Baba Cisse at the Interior Ministry.
The gunmen, who shouted “God is great!” in Arabic as they attacked, were shot to death by security forces following a more than seven-hour siege in the capital of the West African country.
Officials also put out phone numbers, urging people who might have known them to call with information.
The decision to release the photos came a day after the Islamic extremist group that first claimed responsibility for the attack purported to identify the gunmen in an audio recording, according to Al-Akhbar, a Mauritanian news site that often receives messages from Malian extremists.
The group known as Al-Mourabitoun — or The Sentinels — identified the gunmen as Abdel Hakim Al-Ansari and Moadh Al-Ansari, a report posted Sunday by Al-Akhbar said. No nationalities were given, though the name “Al-Ansari” suggests they were Malian.
But Cisse said Malian authorities had not confirmed the men’s identities.
Al-Mourabitoun’s claims could not be independently verified.
Malian officials have said they are searching for more than three suspects who may have been involved in the attack, though they gave no other details.
The extremist group said the two men were the only attackers. Initial reports from witnesses and officials suggested there could have been as many as 10 gunmen involved in the attack on the hotel in the former French colony.
Authorities released a detailed list of the 138 people from more than 20 countries evacuated from the hotel during the attack, including 18 from France, 17 from India and five from the United States. There also were guests from Spain, Russia, Germany, Algeria, Turkey and a half-dozen countries in Africa.
The dead included six Russians, three Chinese, and one American, as well as victims from Belgium, Israel, Senegal and Mali.
France’s Defense Ministry provided new details of French support during the siege, saying that 40 of its special forces arrived in Bamako at 3 p.m. Friday and helped Malian forces move floor by floor “to flush out the terrorists.” Two of the troops were slightly wounded, the statement said.
On Sunday, French media received another claim of responsibility for the attack from a different extremist group that emerged only this year. The claim underscores the shifting alliances and membership of the extremist groups in Mali and nearby countries.
The new group, the Macina Liberation Front, is active in central Mali and said it had worked with yet another militant group, Ansar Dine. The claim said the attack was in retaliation for Operation Barkhane, the regional French fight against Islamic extremists, according to Radio France Internationale.
Analysts have speculated on the motive for the attack, including a desire to disrupt Mali’s fragile peace process or an attempt by al-Qaida and its affiliates to demonstrate its relevance amid high-profile attacks by its rival, the Islamic State group. Al-Mourabitoun has links to al-Qaida, and the group’s first statement Friday described collaboration with al-Qaida’s “Sahara Emirate.”
In 2013, the French military pushed the Islamic extremists out of cities and towns, although the militants continue to carry out attacks against UN peacekeepers.
Mali began three days of national mourning Monday, and the national flag outside Prime Minister Modibo Keita’s office was lowered to half-staff just after sunrise.
Lt. Col. Yacouba Isaac Zida, the prime minister of Burkina Faso, was in town to express his condolences, and Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi was expected later in the day.
“We are aware that the country is in crisis, and we must stand with the victims’ families,” said Makan Kone, a spokesman for Keita, adding that the ceremony was “to show our pain for the death of 19 people.”