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Al Qaeda-linked group claims Mali hotel siege

AFP / Stringer | A photo taken on August 8, 2015 shows a burned vehicle in front of the Hotel Byblos in the central Malian town of Sevare, after gunmen stormed the hotel on August 7

An al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group founded by veteran Algerian terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar has claimed responsibility in statements to media outlets for a hotel siege in central Mali at the weekend in which 17 people died.

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Sahara-based al Mourabitoun, which also has links to radical Islamic leader Amadou Koufa, told the AFP news agency that it had carried out the attack on the Byblos Hotel in the central town of Sevare, 600 km (375 miles) northeast of the Malian capital Bamako.

"The hand of Allah has guided the mujahedeen of Sevare against the enemies of Islam," a spokesperson for the group, Souleyman Mohamed Kennen, said in a phone interview.

Qatari-based television network Al Jazeera also said it had received a brief statement from al-Mourabitoun claiming responsibility for the attack, which began early on Friday and ended nearly 24 hours later when security forces stormed the building.

“Elements of the al-Murabitoun group which follows al Qaeda, following a lengthy period of surveillance and diligence, managed to carry out the operation in the city of Sevare, and specifically on the Byblos Hotel, which was inhabited by Western nationals,” al Jazeera quoted the statement as saying.

“We will issue a subsequent statement with full details of the operation,” the group said.

The death toll in Friday’s attack included nine civilians, five of whom worked for the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as four Malian soldiers and four militants.

Mali has seen a surge in jihadist violence in recent months despite a peace deal signed in June.

On Monday, three soldiers were killed and four wounded when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near the town of Diabozo.

Al-Mourabitoun formed in 2013 with the merger of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and fighters loyal to Belmokhtar – a former commander in al Qaeda’s north African arm al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In March, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on a restaurant in Bamako that killed five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian security officer.

Before forming Al Mourabitoun, Belmokhtar’s men and members of AQIM formed a loose alliance of fighters that seized northern Mali’s desert regions in 2012.

The militants were scattered by a French offensive in January 2013 but pockets of insurgents remain and have continued to carry out sporadic attacks despite the presence of some 3,000 French troops in the region and several thousand UN peacekeepers in Mali.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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