BAMAKO, Mali (AP) – An al-Qaida-linked Islamic militant group said Monday it staged an attack the previous day on a resort area in Mali popular with foreigners, killing five people, including a Portuguese soldier who had been serving in the European Union mission to stabilize this West African country wracked by mounting extremism.
The recently formed Mali-based Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites.
A Malian soldier and three civilians – a Chinese citizen, a Malian, and a French-Gabonese dual national – also were slain in the worst terror attack to strike Bamako since late 2015.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the Malian victim worked for the European delegation in Bamako.
The attack struck a resort area that was considered safe enough that it was an approved rest and recreation location for soldiers with the EU mission. It was not immediately clear how the attackers managed to overpower the security staff and shoot at guests.
Mali’s special forces arrived on the scene not long after the reports of gunfire erupting from Campement Kangaba, known for its three swimming pools and serene surroundings as an escape from the bustling capital’s heat and traffic.
Initially the country’s security minister said one of the wounded attackers had managed to escape but on Monday officials said they had accounted for all the jihadis.
“At this hour, all of the terrorists have been killed. The situation is under control,” Mali’s Security Minister Salif Traore told The Associated Press.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene Sunday afternoon, with one man saying the first jihadi on the scene arrived by motorcycle shouting “Allah Akbar.” Three others subsequently arrived in a vehicle and began firing their weapons. One of the attackers was subdued by a French soldier who happened to be at Campement Kangaba on the weekend, according to a witness at the scene. The attacker was wounded and later died.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place amid the final week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. However, the attack resembled a number of others carried out by the local affiliate of al-Qaida in West Africa over the past two years.
Sunday’s violence also came about a week after the U.S. State Department warned of possible attacks on Western diplomatic missions and other locations in Bamako that Westerners frequent.
Religious extremism in Mali once was limited to northern areas, prompting the French military in 2013 to lead a military operation to oust jihadis from power in the major towns in the north. But the militants have continued targeting Malian forces and peacekeepers, making it the most dangerous U.N. mission in the world.
There are no French troops based in Bamako, but about 2,000 French troops are based in northern Mali fighting Islamic extremists. French President Emmanuel Macron was informed about the attack and was following the events carefully, according to an official in his office.
In recent years, the extremists have become more brazen, attacking sites frequented by Westerners in the capital, Bamako.
In March 2015, five people died when militants hit a popular restaurant in the capital. A devastating attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako later that year left 20 dead – six Malians and 14 foreigners.
That attack was jointly claimed by both the regional al-Qaida affiliate and a group known as Al Mourabitoun, which was founded by extremist Moktar Belmoktar after he fell out with al-Qaida leaders. In a video released in March, jihadis said those two were joining together along with two Mali-based terror groups, merging as Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen.
Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels; Carley Petesch and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.