Mali vows to increase security after deadly raid on hotel

Mali plans to boost security measures after al-Qaeda-linked gunmen killed at least 20 people at a luxury hotel in the capital, highlighting risks in a country facing an Islamist rebellion.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and his cabinet at an extraordinary meeting late Friday vowed to reinforce security, state television reported, without providing more details. They met after Malian troops ended an about 10-hour siege by gunmen at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako. At least two of the gunmen also died. The president declared a nationwide state of emergency, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported, without saying where it got the information.

The attack began on Friday morning when gunmen burst into the lobby spraying gunfire. Hours later, troops stormed the hotel and moved room to room evacuating guests, while French and U.S. security forces aided the operation.

As many as 170 people had been trapped inside the hotel and at least 105 of them were rescued, according to state television. One of those killed was an American citizen, the U.S. State Department said without providing additional details.

The raid came a week after Islamic State militants killed 129 people in a series of shootings and explosions in Paris, the worst atrocity in Europe in almost a decade. Mali is a former French colony.

Mali was plunged into violence after a military coup in March 2012 left a power vacuum that allowed Islamist militants to join with separatists and seize the north of the country. While French forces pushed the militants out of most of those strongholds in 2013, the government is struggling to regain authority there. At least 40 UN peacekeepers have been killed in hit-and-run attacks in the north since the mission began two years ago, making it the most deadly peacekeeping operation globally.

Al-Qaeda in Maghreb and the militant Morabetoun group claimed joint responsibility for Friday’s attack.

Morabetoun and its leader, the notorious one-eyed former Algerian soldier Mokhtar Belmokhtar, are best known for an attack on an Algerian gas plant in 2013 that killed more than a dozen hostages. Belmokhtar’s death has been reported more than once, but never confirmed. He’s probably behind the Mali attack, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday.

The U.S. government is willing to assist Mali in investigating the assault over the coming days, President Barack Obama said in an e-mailed statement on Friday.

Mali’s government “continues to exercise limited or no control over vast stretches of the northern territories and the jihadis have no interest in negotiating,” Sean Smith, West Africa political risk analyst with Verisk Maplecroft, said in an e-mail.

“The state’s security apparatus is especially weak and Bamako will remain highly vulnerable to terrorist incidents for the foreseeable future,” Smith said.

 – Blommberg [Olivier Monnier and Pauline Bax, assisted by David Whitehouse, Caroline Alexander and Francois Rihouay]