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Mali hotel attack: Radical group al Murabitoun identifies gunmen

world Updated: Nov 23, 2015 21:46 IST
Mali hotel attack

Malian troops patrol outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 21. Investigators in Mali are hunting at least three people suspected of links to the jihadist siege at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in the capital that left at least 19 people dead.(AFP Photo)

Mali began a three-day mourning period with flags flying at half-staff on Monday for victims of the assault on a luxury hotel full of foreigners, a day after a dueling claim of responsibility emerged.

The Islamic extremist group, al Murabitoun, that first claimed responsibility for Friday’s assault, issued a new audio recording identifying the two gunmen, according to a Mauritanian news site that often receives messages from Malian extremists.

The group said the two were the only assailants in the attack that killed 19 people. Initial reports from witnesses and officials suggested there could have been as many as 10 gunmen. The bodies of only two gunmen were recovered from the scene.

The recording from the al Murabitoun (The Sentinels) group identified the gunmen as Abdel Hakim al Ansari and Moadh al Ansari, al Akhbar said in an article posted online on Sunday. No nationalities were given, though the name “al Ansari” suggests they were both Malian.

Meanwhile, a different extremist group that emerged only this year also issued a claim of responsibility for the attack. The claim, reported on Sunday by French media, underscores the shifting alliances and memberships of the extremist groups operating 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.

France’s Defense Ministry on Monday provided new details of French support during the siege, describing in a statement how 40 French special forces arrived in Bamako at 3pm and helped Malian forces move floor by floor “to flush out the terrorists”. Two of the troops were slightly injured, the statement said.

Officials in this former French colony have said they are searching for more than three suspects who may have been involved in the attack, though they have provided no other details on the possible leads.

In the absence of clear information, analysts have speculated on other possible motives, including a desire to disrupt Mali’s fragile local peace process or a wish by al Qaida and its affiliates to demonstrate its relevance amid high-profile attacks by its rival, the Islamic State group.

Al Murabitoun has links to al Qaida and the group’s first statement on Friday described collaboration with the al Qaida’s “Sahara Emirate”.

On Monday morning, the national flag outside Prime Minister Modibo Keita’s office was lowered to half-staff just after sunrise. Burkina Faso Prime Minister Lt Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida was in town to express his condolences, and Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi was expected on Monday afternoon.

“We are aware that the country is in crisis and we must stand with the victim’s families,” said Makan Kone, a spokesperson for Keita, adding that the ceremony was “to show our pain for the death of 19 people”.