Malian security operatives freed at least six hostages held by suspected Islamist militants in a hotel in the central town of Sevare on Saturday, a day after gunmen stormed the building and killed at least five UN employees.
The militants targeted the Byblos Hotel, which is popular with UN staff, at around 7am GMT Friday, government authorities said. The attack comes as Islamist extremist groups step up attacks in Mali, spreading violence to central parts of the country from the north where their efforts to expand territory have previously been concentrated.
MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, confirmed that five of its contractors were killed in the standoff, including a Nepalese, a South African, two Ukrainians, and a Malian driver. Three attackers and five Malian soldiers were also killed.
Two South Africans, a Russian, and a Ukrainian were among the four UN employees rescued in the ordeal, UN spokeswoman Radhia Achouri told the Associated Press.
"Our contractors survived because at no time was their presence discovered by the terrorists in the hotel," Achouri said.
MINUSMA said in a statement Friday that the gunmen originally attempted to attack a military site in the town, but moved onto the hotel after being pushed back by Malian soldiers.
"Confrontations between the attackers and the Malian Armed and Security Forces continued throughout the morning and shots continue to be fired sporadically at the hotel and in its vicinity," the statement said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
A French-led offensive has sought to drive Islamic insurgents from Mali since early 2013, prompted by the takeover of a number of Mali's northern cities in 2012 by three Islamist factions.
In March, five people were killed when a masked gunman shot up a restaurant frequented by foreigners in the capital of Bamako.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Top photo shows Malian forces patrolling the town of Sevare in northern Mali in 2013.
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