Security forces in Mali said Tuesday they were hunting a fugitive wounded in a failed attack on the headquarters of the European Union’s military training mission in Bamako.
“We are looking for a wounded terrorist, who ran off,” a Malian security source told AFP, adding that one of two suspects arrested following Monday’s attempted attack was a person “of interest” to the ongoing investigation.
An unknown number of gunmen attempted to force their way into the Azalai Nord-Sud hotel where the EU mission is based on Monday night, but were held back by return fire from security guards, with one attacker shot dead.
The establishment is in Bamako’s upmarket ACI 2000 neighbourhood, also home to the luxury Radisson Blu hotel where 20 people were killed by al Qaeda-linked extremists in November.
A European military source said Tuesday the dead gunman was just 16 years old, reflecting a growing trend of young, sub-Saharan Africans staging attacks on hotels and symbolic Western targets in Mali, where once Arab and Tuareg fighters dominated.
“In his bag we found grenades and other evidence that clearly indicates he was a terrorist,” including several documents, the source said.
No EU personnel were harmed in the attempted attack, the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) confirmed in social media postings.
Police showed AFP a photo they said was of the dead gunman, who was pictured shaven headed and wearing blue jeans, slumped in a pool of his own blood.
Security stepped up
The number of would-be attackers remains disputed, with as many as four and as few as two given by different authorities, and there has not yet been any claim of responsibility.
The EU training mission aims to reinforce the Malian army’s ability to engage in combat operations as they battle a jihadist insurgency and rampant banditry across vast swathes of the desert nation.
Security was stepped up across Bamako on Tuesday, notably in the district where Mali’s government ministries are located, with those lacking the correct identification turned away from work.
Speaking while on a visit to Namibia, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told journalists the latest attempt to bring terror to Bamako’s streets would not hold back attempts to implement a peace accord in Mali.
“We have come a long way,” he said, referring to a landmark agreement reached last year between the Mali government and Tuareg-led rebels who have led several uprisings against the state.
“This agreement clearly disturbs the terrorists because it allows (us) to see from now onwards who is a terrorist, who is for peace in Mali and who is truly Malian,” Keita added.
Since being chased from northern Mali by French-led forces in 2013, extremist groups once allied with Tuareg rebels have staged sporadic attacks on the country’s military forces and the UN peacekeeping mission based in the country, killing dozens.
More recently they have turned to more spectacular civilian targets, with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claiming responsibility for three recent attacks in west Africa.
The chief of the UN mission Mahamat Salah Annadif called for a swift investigation into the perpetrators of the botched attack in a statement released on Tuesday.
“The enemies of peace are behind this act and those responsible must be identified and brought to justice,” he said.