Militants killed five people including a French citizen and a Belgian security officer in a gun attack on a restaurant in Mali’s capital in the early hours of Saturday, authorities said.
Mali’s desert north, where French forces wrested control of territory from separatist rebels and al Qaeda-linked fighters, is plagued by frequent attacks. But this is the first such attack for years in Bamako in the south and raises fears that the capital will become targeted more by militants.
Mauritanian news website Al-Akhbar said it had received a video from the armed Islamist group al-Mourabitoun that claimed responsibility for the attack in reprisal for the December killing by French troops of Ahmed al Tilemsi, one of the group’s senior commanders.
It was not possible to immediately verify the video but Nouakchott-based Al-Akhbar is frequently used by al Qaeda-linked Islamists operating in the Sahara and Sahel band to publish statements.
The dead also included three Malians, the government said. The attack on La Terrasse restaurant, which is popular with expatriates, began at around 1 a.m. (0100 GMT) and left nine people wounded, said a senior security official.
“There were two individuals who were armed and hooded. One burst into the La Terrasse restaurant and opened fire on people. Then he got into a vehicle in which the other was waiting,” said senior police officer Falaye Kanté.
“As they fled down a neighboring street, they shot a Belgian man who was in front of his house. He’s dead. Not far away they came across a police vehicle and threw a grenade, killing the driver,” he told Reuters.
The Belgian man was a security officer at the European Union’s delegation in Bamako, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
Two people were arrested shortly after the attack but a security source said later they were not thought to be responsible.
Two international experts with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) were among the wounded, according to initial reports, said Mongi Hamdi, U.N. special envoy for the peacekeeping mission to Mali (MINUSMA).
Two Swiss army personnel were wounded and brought to hospital where they are in a stable but critical condition, said a statement from the Swiss Armed Forces International Command.
One worked for UNMAS and the other is part of a fact-finding mission, it said.
The restaurant is located on one of the busiest streets for night life and entertainment in Bamako.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta visited the site on Saturday and his government pledged to bring the attackers to justice.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande’s office said he had spoken with Keita and that they had agreed on new “common measures” to reinforce security in Mali. The statement gave no details.
French forces took control of northern Mali two years ago, scattering militants across the region. But over recent months there has been an upsurge in attacks as the government and separatist rebels move towards a peace accord.
Al-Mourabitoun was formed by veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is one of the primary targets of France’s more than 3,000-strong counter-insurgency force in the region, where militants roam across porous borders.
Mali’s government signed a preliminary peace proposal last Sunday meant to end fighting with northern separatists, but the Tuareg-led rebels demanded more time before agreeing to any accord.