Mali has begun three days of national mourning after last Friday's hostage-taking attack killed scores. Claims of responsibility abound but investigators have yet to point to any definitive proof.
"We are aware that the country is in crisis and we must stand with the victim's families," said a spokesman for Mali's president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, whose flag was hung at half-mast on Monday.
Mali has been joined in mourning by fellow members of the West African ECOWAS economic bloc. Senegalese President Macky Sall, the chairman of the bloc, visited Bamako on Sunday in a show of support.
"Mali will never be alone in this fight, we are all committed because we are all involved," Sall said.
Two gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday, taking 170 guests and staff hostage. Malian and international forces freed the hotel after a lengthy floor-by-floor operation.
Eighteen hostages, one member of Mali's special forces and both attackers were killed, according to the government's report. President Keita decreed a 10-day state of emergency in the wake of the crisis.
Claims but no proof of responsibility
The nationalities and affiliations of the attackers remain unknown. The Al-Murabitoun militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack, allegedly carried out in collaboration with al-Qaeda's "Sahara Emirate."
Mali's President Keita casted doubt on Al-Murabitoun's responsibility. He stated in an interview on Monday that he believed a separate claim of responsibility by the Macina Liberation Front.
Both groups are based in Mali's dangerous north and have sought to extend their terror to the country's more secure south.
On the part of Mali's police, statements given Sunday by investigators suspected the attackers to be two foreigners aided by several accomplices. "Several leads are being followed," the police said. "The hotel that was attacked is being combed through carefully." French and UN investigators have arrived to help identify the bodies.
Authorities in Mali published photos on Monday of a man and a woman suspected to have planned the attack, according to Reuters news agency.
A tenuous situation
Large swaths of Mali's north was overtaken by the Islamist group Ansar Dine in 2012, establishing a regime of terror before a French military intervention in 2013 helped restore governmental control in the region. An international peacekeeping mission led by the UN has since sought to maintain security in the country, though frequent terrorist attacks have betrayed the country's delicate stability.
The Radisson Blu is an upscale hotel frequented among international businesspeople visiting Mali, and most of the victims were foreigners - including Russians, Chinese, Belgians, an American, an Israeli and a Senegalese. The attacks brought quick condemnation from heads of state worldwide.
jtm/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)