Unidentified gunmen killed one person and wounded at least two others in an attack on a hotel in the central Mali town Bandiagara regularly frequented by United Nations staff and humanitarian workers, witnesses said.
Two days earlier, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga visited Bandiagara and promised to defeat Islamist insurgents who have plunged Mali’s central and northern regions into chaos.
Five men approached the entrance to Bandiagara’s Hotel la Falaise on foot at around 9.30 pm, removed rifles from their traditional robes and opened fire, several witnesses said.
“They were walking calmly and seemed normal,” said Bocar Karambe, a driver across the street from the hotel when the attack began.
“Once they arrived in front of the gate, we heard gunfire. When I turned around I saw they were shooting point blank at people in front of the hotel,” he said.
At least three people, a soldier guarding the entrance and two hotel workers, were hit. The soldier later succumbed to his injuries, Karambe and a second witness said.
One attacker was also killed.
“I saw the body of an attacker on the ground. He was shot by the same soldier before he was gunned down by other assailants,” said Barema Kassogue, who sells antiques near the hotel.
The Hotel la Falaise was once popular with tourists visiting the Dogon people, who inhabit the cliffs of Mali’s central plateau.
The area’s tourism industry dried up after Islamist groups, some with links to al Qaeda, seized Mali’s desert north in 2012. They were driven back by a French-led military intervention a year later, but attacks continue.
The hotel now mainly caters to humanitarian aid workers responding to the consequences of the violence.
Prime Minister Maiga and eight of his ministers began a nine-stop national tour last week aimed at shoring up support for the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita ahead of national elections planned for July 29.
The trip included stops in several areas senior government officials rarely visit because of security concerns.
Central Mali’s once peaceful Mopti region, including Bandiagara, is a new flashpoint for violence as marginalised Fulani herdsmen join forces with al Qaeda-allied Islamists based further north.