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Two Militant Groups Make Dueling Claims to Deadly Hotel Siege in Mali

Two different Islamist militant groups have laid claim to the recent attack on a hotel in central Mali that left 13 people dead, including five UN peacekeepers.

by Pierre Longeray
Aug 11 2015, 4:25pm

Photo via EPA

Two different Islamist militant groups have now claimed responsibility for a hotel siege over the weekend in central Mali that killed 13 people, including five UN peacekeepers.

On Tuesday, an associate of Sheik Amadou Koufa — a radical Malian preacher who recently formed the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) — told AFP that his group was responsible for the hotel attack in Sevare, as well as a blast on Monday that killed three Malian soldiers when their vehicle hit an IED.

"The hand of Allah has guided the mujahedeen of Sevare against the enemies of Islam. Fifteen kafirs [infidels] and their accomplices were killed," Koufa's associate Souleyman Mohamed Kennen reportedly said during a phone interview. Kennen said Koufa had given "his blessing for the attack" on the hotel, and warned of further action against "the enemies of Islam."

Related: Violence on the Rise In Mali as New Armed Group Emerges in the Central Region

Kennen was previously affiliated with the Jihadist group al-Mourabitoun, which also claimed responsibility for the attack. The siege began on Friday when gunmen stormed the Byblos hotel, an establishment popular with troops from the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali.

Al Jazeera reportedly received a statement from al-Mourabitoun that said the attack was carried out "following a lengthy period of surveillance and diligence." Al-Mourabitoun, which is aligned with al Qaeda, said the hotel was "specifically" targeted because of the presence of "Western nationals."

The hostage crisis ended Saturday when Malian and French troops stormed the hotel, killing four of the attackers. Four Malian soldiers and five MINUSMA troops were also killed in the attack, Malian authorities confirmed.

The FLM — which is named after a region in central Mali — has multiplied its attacks in the central part of the country. Until now, the armed conflict has mostly been concentrated in the country's north. Koufa, the FLM leader, wants to impose Sharia law, and has openly endorsed "the holy war" in Mali.

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In January 2013, France launched Operation Serval, a military operation to rid the country's north of militants. In July 2014, Serval was replaced with Operation Barkhane, a counterterrorism campaign across Africa's Sahel region, which includes Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

Malian investigators have voiced "strong suspicions" that the attackers belonged to the FLM. "An identity card found on one of them has [the name] Tamboura and shows he was born in Tenenkou, a village in the Macina area," a security source in Sevare said, adding that the find "supported the FLM theory."

Malian authorities have not responded to the dueling claims of responsibility.

According to French radio station RFI, the confusion surrounding the double-claim could be the result of collaboration between the attackers and Jihadists based in Mali's north. The attackers, said RFI, could have received help from militants belonging either to al-Mourabitoun, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), or FLM allies Ansar Dine.

Related: Police in Mali Nab 20 Suspected Islamist Militants on Bus Bound for Capital

"There is a bridge between all these groups. In claiming responsibility for the Sevare attack, Souleyman is also speaking for the other jihadi groups," a Malian security source told AFP.

The hotel siege came just a few days after militants killed two Malian soldiers and injured another four in an ambush in the town of Nampala, close to the border with Mauritania. Militants struck again on August 3, killing 11 Malian troops in an attack on a military camp in the town of Gourma-Rharous, a raid later claimed by AQIM.

Pierre Boilley, director of the Institute of the African Worlds, previously told VICE News that, "The aim of the attacks is for Jihadist groups to flaunt their presence and get people talking about them." Insurgents, he said, "want to show that they can strike anywhere, North or South."

The recent attacks came seven weeks after a peace deal — the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali — was signed by the government and the Coordination of the Movements of Azawad (CMA), a coalition of rebel groups seeking autonomy for northern Mali.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray