9 dead, 4 rescued in Mali hotel attack
3 of the Islamic militants who stormed hotel also killed in attack that occurred far from militant strongholds
Mali's special forces early Saturday rescued four people who hid in a hotel for nearly 24 hours after Islamic extremists stormed the building and launched a rare attack far from their northern strongholds that killed nine people, officials said.
Three attackers were also killed in the fighting.
The four rescued UN employees are two South Africans, a Russian and a Ukrainian, said Radhia Achouri, the spokeswoman for the UN mission in Mali.
"Our contractors survived because at no time was their presence discovered by the terrorists in the hotel," she said adding there was not much resistance Saturday morning during the rescue. The four will soon go to Bamako, the capital, she said.
Additional UN personnel may still be missing, said a UN official not authorized to speak to the press on the matter. Some personnel could not be reached, and some of the attackers left Sevare after the initial attacks Friday morning, the official said.
Attack began Friday
A 38-year-old South African who died in the attack worked for an aviation company that was assisting the UN contingent in Mali, Nelson Kgwete, spokesman for South Africa's foreign ministry, said on Twitter. Kgwete declined to reveal the identity of the dead South African. Two other South Africans caught up in the attack are safe, he said on Twitter.
A South African member of the Gift of the Givers charity group was at the hotel at the time of the attack but was unharmed, Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the South African organization, told South African media.
The Russian former hostage is "alive and well," Viktor Gorelov, spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Bamako, told the Interfax news agency. The state news agency Tass said he worked for the Russian airline UTair.
Islamic extremists started the attack Friday at the Hotel Byblos in Sevare, about 600 kilometers northeast of the capital, Bamako.
7 suspected militants detained
Mali's army surrounded the hotel, and fighting went into the night Friday. Mali's special forces were transported to Sevare from Bamako early Saturday and launched an operation to rescue the people inside the hotel. It is unclear how many fighters were involved.
After the operation four additional bodies were found in the hotel, including three hotel staff and one jihadi, said Lt. Col. Diarran Kone. Officials had earlier announced that five Malian soldiers were killed, two jihadis and a UN contractor, bringing the total death toll to 12.
"The operation ended around 5 a.m.," he said. "The operation was led by Mali's gendarmerie with our partners."
The government said Friday that forces detained seven suspected militants.
Northern Mali fell under the control of jihadis in 2012, but a French-led offensive ousted them in early 2013. Remnants of the extremists have staged attacks on UN peacekeepers and Malian forces, but Friday's assault on a hotel popular with UN pilots marks a serious escalation.
Sevare and the nearby town of Mopti in central Mali have long been the heart of Mali's tourism industry and had been spared the attacks more common in the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu. Mali's jihadi groups have been stepping up their attacks further south from their strongholds in the north.