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Homeland Security

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

by Katarina Hoije November 24, 2015

Malian authorities have asked the public for help in identifying two gunmen killed in the terrorist attack that killed 21 people at a Bamako hotel Friday, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in Mali.

Four days after the attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the details remain unclear.

Malian authorities say gunmen stormed the hotel early Friday, yelling "Allahu Akbar" – "God is great" in Arabic.

Most of the people killed were in the breakfast room, but there were also victims on the two uppermost floors. Some survivors said the attackers spoke French. One hotel guest said they knocked on his door claiming to be hotel security.

There were at least two attackers, but as many as ten by some reports. The accounts of survivors suggest there were four or five gunmen.

Amadou Sangho of Ministry for Security and Civil Protection says investigators are working to identify the two gunmen whose bodies were found at the scene.

He says more than one group has claimed responsibility, but he will not speculate about which group committed the attack. Sangho says when the gunmen are identified investigators might also be able determine which group executed the attack.

Groups claiming responsibility

The first jihadist group to take responsibility for the attack has identified two gunmen, Abdel Hakim al-Ansari and Moadh al-Ansari. Sangho could not confirm those were the men in the photos released by authorities.

That group, Al-Mourabitoune, or the Sentinels, released a tweet as the seven-hour siege was ending Friday and then an audio message to a Mauritanian news site Monday. Al-Mourabitoune is a fusion of two Al-Qaida-linked groups in northern Mali.

The group is believed to still be led by longtime Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who masterminded the 2012 attack on a gas plant in Ain Amenas that killed at least 67 people, many of them foreigners.

But another jihadist group, called the Macina Liberation Front active primarily in central Mali, said Sunday in a statement to French media that there were five gunmen at the Radisson and three of them escaped. The MLF claimed the attack as a joint operation with Ansar Dine, another Malian jihadist movement in the north.

Possible power struggle

The MLF attacked a hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare in August, holding staff and guests hostage and killing 13 people.

The contradictory claims of responsibility for the Bamako attack could suggest a power struggle among jihadist groups operating in Mali.

New groups have formed as others have fractured. Membership has at times overlapped.

The confusion underscores the security challenges Mali faces now almost three years after the start of an international military intervention in the north.

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