EU official among people shot dead in midnight 'terrorist' attack on Mali restaurant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 March, 2015, 1:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 March, 2015, 4:33pm

Three Europeans were shot dead at a nightclub  in Mali’s capital early Saturday, in a suspected terror attack that came with the government at a key stage of peace talks with militants in the restive north.

At least one gunman entered the club after midnight and opened fire, according to police and an AFP correspondent on the scene in the aftermath.

Two people have been arrested over the attack at the popular La Terrasse restaurant in an area popular with expatriates.  At least five people were killed.

“This is a terrorist attack, although we’re waiting for clarification,” a policeman said, identifying two victims as French and Belgian nationals.

A source at the Gabriel Toure hospital in Bamako said the third European,  whose nationality was not immediately clear, had died on arrival, while eight people were wounded.

EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said one of the victims worked  with the European Union in Mali where the 28-nation bloc runs a mission to  assist police and national guard forces.

Mogherini did not give the nationality of the victim in a tweeted message.

Police said another two Malians the dead included a police officer passing the scene at the time of the shooting.

Le Combat, a privately-owned daily newspaper in Bamako, said on its website that a man and a woman opened fire with “heavy weapons” while a third assailant kept  watch at the entrance, although this could not be independently verified.

Witnesses said they saw the attackers escape in at least two vehicles,  including a black Mercedes and a BMW, the report said.

Dozens of police officers secured the area, a popular nightspot among expatriates, but the few witnesses to the attack were initially refusing to testify, fearing reprisals.

“The zone where the shooting took place is under the control of the security forces. … The security forces are conducting an operation to ensure there are no other surprises,” a senior intelligence source said.

French President Francois Hollande denounced “with the greatest force the  cowardly attack”, according to a statement from the presidency.

In moments after the attack the body of the Malian police officer and a guard of a private home could be seen in the street outside the restaurant, while a little further away the body of the Belgian national was also visible.

The French embassy in Bamako issued a message to all French nationals in the city to exercise caution if they had to leave their homes.

Mali’s vast desert north is riven by ethnic rivalries and an Islamist  insurgency, and has struggled for stability and peace since a coup in 2012. But the capital Bamako is largely peaceful.

French forces wrested control of the north from separatist rebels and militants linked to al Qaeda two years ago but the insurgents continue to mount attacks.

Jihadists linked to al-Qaeda controlled an area of desert the size of Texas  for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention in 2013 that  partly drove them from the region.

The west African nation is also struggling with a militant Tuareg movement  that has launched four uprisings since 1962 to fight the army over the  territory they claim as their homeland and call Azawad.

Saturday’s attack came less than 24 hours after United Nations chief Ban  Ki-moon urged Mali’s Tuareg rebel groups to sign a peace deal agreed nearly a  week ago in Algeria.

The Malian government signed the agreement over the weekend, along with  some northern armed groups, but the main Tuareg rebel alliance, known as the  Coordination, asked for more time.