Four people held in a hotel in central Mali after an attack by Islamic extremists have been freed following a stand-off with the army and special forces that left 12 people dead, Mali’s defence ministry adviser said.
After the operation ended four additional bodies were found in the Hotel Byblos in the town Sevare, including three hotel staff and one jihadi fighter, 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 5am. Four hostages were freed and four bodies found,” he said. “The operation was led by Mali’s gendarmerie with our partners.”
UN mission in Mali spokeswoman Radhia Achouri said the four freed were United Nations employees.
Islamic extremists launched the attack on Friday at the hotel in Sevare, about 375 miles north of Bamako.
Northern Mali fell under the control of jihadis in 2012 but a French-led offensive ousted them from power in early 2013. Remnants of the group have staged a number of attacks on UN peacekeepers and Malian forces, but Friday’s assault on a hotel known to be popular with UN pilots marked a serious escalation.
Sevare and the nearby town of Mopti in central Mali have long been the heart of the country’s tourism industry and had been spared from 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.
In March, a masked gunman opened fire at a restaurant popular with foreigners in Bamako, the capital, killing five people. In June, gunmen killed three soldiers in a village near the Mauritania border.
The next day extremists briefly occupied a village near Ivory Coast. The extremist group Ansar Dine said it was behind those attacks.
A Dutch man, Swede and South African were abducted from a hostel in Timbuktu in November 2011. Dutch train driver Sjaak Rijke was rescued in April by French special forces in northern Mali.
There has been no word on Swede Johan Gustafsson and South African Stephen Malcolm who were abducted along with him. A German died in the attack.
Two French men were kidnapped from their hotel in north-eastern Mali in November 2011. Philippe Verdon was found killed in 2013, and Serge Lazarevic was released late last year.