BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali state television showed images on Monday of two dead men that it said were the “authors” of an attack by Islamist militants on a luxury hotel in the capital Bamako and appealed for information as to their identity.
Twenty people plus two gunmen died in Friday’s assault on the Radisson Blu hotel. The victims included six Russians, three Chinese, an American, a Belgian, a Senegalese and an Israeli.
Jihadist group Al Mourabitoun and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) declared they had carried out the attack in a joint operation against the hotel, a favorite of foreign businessmen and diplomats.
The pictures on state television were of two young black men, one of them lying on a metal gurney. The broadcaster appealed for those with information about them to come forward.
The bloodshed, which came a week after Islamic State attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, underlined deepening insecurity in Mali and the difficulties French and a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force are having in stabilizing the former French colony.
Chief prosecutor Boubacar Sidiki Samake, heading the investigation, said authorities had recovered mobile phones and machine pistols from the bodies of the two militants that will help them understand how the attack was conceived.
France, Belgium, Canada and the United States are providing technical assistance with the investigation, he added.
The Massina Liberation Front, blamed for previous violence in southern Mali, on Sunday became the third group to claim responsibility for the attack.
The al-Akhbar news agency of neighboring Mauritania said it received an audio message in Arabic from Al Mourabitoun in which the group named two of its men it said staged the attack.
The message said the men died after mounting “stiff resistance” and called for further “resistance to the aggression of crusaders on the mujahideen of Mali”. It was not immediately possible to verify the message’s content.
Mali began three days of mourning on Tuesday and flags flew at half mast across the country. As part of a package of emergency measures, police searched cars on Monday in Bamako while a U.N. official said troops would help with patrols overnight.
Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda seized Mali’s desert north in 2012 following a separatist uprising but were scattered by a French military operation the following year.
Jihadists have stepped up attacks this year on Western and Malian targets beyond their traditional northern desert bases. In August, they stormed a hotel in central Mali, killing at least 12 people in an attack similar to Friday’s.
Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi and Burkina Faso’s prime minister Yacouba Isaac Zida both visited Mali on Monday to express their condolences.
“Our countries need to get organized. On a regional level we need reforms,” said Boni Yayi, adding that governments needed to consider “the reinforcement of our intelligence capacities and border management”.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall, chairman of West Africa’s ECOWAS, said on Sunday that the regional body will discuss possible measures to restrict women wearing burqas in order to enhance regional security.
Additional reporting by Emma Farge and Diadie Ba in Dakar; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Dominic Evans