One day after gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako and took 170 people hostage, officials said that "more than three" suspects in the attack are still at large.
The head of security at the Radisson Blu hotel, Seydou Dembele, told Reuters that breakfast at the hotel was disrupted on Friday when as many as 10 assailants burst into the building, shouted "Allahu Akbar," and opened fire. At least 19 people were killed — a lower death toll than authorities initially reported — after a seven-hour standoff with Malian troops backed by US and French special forces.
"The search has started," Malian military commander Major Modibo Nama Traore said. "And I can tell you that we are looking for more than three people at the moment." Two of the attackers died during the assault.
In a statement on Friday, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the extremist group Al-Mourabitoun, an affiliate of al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack. Mokhtar Belmoktar, a notorious one-eyed Algerian militant, heads the group.
Friday's assault on Bamako came just one week after 130 people were killed during coordinated terror attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State (IS). The militant group also claimed responsibility for downing a Russian airliner over Egypt three weeks ago, killing all 224 people aboard.
On Tuesday, after officials concluded that the Russian airliner had been brought down by a bomb, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to hunt down the militants responsible for planning the attack. He also pledged to coordinate military efforts with France and the US against IS in Syria. But now it seems Putin is looking for a bigger fight.
The attack on the Mali hotel killed six Russians — all employees of the regional airline Volga-Dnepr — prompting Putin to call for a broader confrontation of terrorism that extends beyond IS-controlled territory.
In a message sent on Saturday to Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Putin expressed his condolences and said "the widest international cooperation" was needed to confront "global terrorism."
One American and a deputy from Belgium's regional parliament were also killed in the Bamako hotel attack. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was not aware of any French nationals killed in the attacks.
For many Malians, the attacks on the hotel were a painful reminder of the instability the former French colony has endured over recent years. In 2012, Tuareg separatists and Islamic extremists took northern Mali in a military coup. A military intervention led by French forces the following year drove extremists from cities and towns, weakening their stronghold but causing them to scatter. Another terrorist attack was carried out on a restaurant in Bamako in March.
On Friday, Keita declared a 10-day state of emergency and ramped up security around Bamako.
"Mali will not shut down because of this attack," Keita said during a visit to the hotel on Saturday. "Paris and New York were not shut down and Mali won't be. Terrorism will not win."
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Reuters contributed to this report.