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Saturday, October 21, 2017

By Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali state television showed images on Monday of two men, apparently dead, that it said were the “authors” of an attack by Islamist militants on a luxury hotel in the capital Bamako and appealed for information as to their identity.

Twenty people plus two gunmen died in Friday’s assault on the Radisson Blu hotel. The victims included six Russians, three Chinese, an American, a Belgian, a Senegalese and an Israeli.

Jihadist group Al Mourabitoun and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) declared they had carried out the attack in a joint operation against the hotel, a favourite of foreign businessmen and diplomats.

The pictures on state television were of two young black men, one of them lying on a metal gurney, a trickle of blood running from beneath his left shoulder.

The broadcaster appealed for Malians who had any information about them to come forward.

The bloodshed, which came a week after Islamic State attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, underlined deepening insecurity in Mali and the difficulties French and U.N. peacekeeping forces are having in stabilising the former French colony.

The 10,000-member U.N. force, MINUSMA, said on Monday that 20 civilians and two militants died in the attack, raising the toll from 19 civilians reported earlier by the government.

Chief prosecutor Boubacar Sidiki Samake, heading the investigation, said authorities had recovered mobile phones and machine pistols from the bodies of the two militants that will help them understand how the attack was conceived.

The Massina Liberation Front, blamed for previous violence in southern Mali, on Sunday became the third group to claim responsibility for the attack.

The al-Akhbar news agency of neighbouring Mauritania said it received an audio message in Arabic from Al Mourabitoun in which the group named two of its men it said staged the attack.

The message said the men died after mounting “stiff resistance” and called for further “resistance to the aggression of crusaders on the mujahideen of Mali”. It was not immediately possible to verify the message’s content.

Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda seized the desert north of Mali in 2012 following a separatist uprising but were scattered by a French military operation the following year.

Jihadists have stepped up attacks this year on Western and Malian targets beyond their traditional desert bases. In August, they stormed a hotel in central Mali, killing at least 12 people in an attack similar to Friday’s.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

The exterior of the Radisson hotel is seen in Bamako, Mali, November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Penney