BAMAKO, Mali – Malian security forces were hunting "more than three" suspects after a brazen assault on a luxury hotel in the capital that killed 20 people plus two assailants, an army commander said Saturday.
Malians awoke to a state of emergency after the Friday's brazen attack in downtown Bamako that was claimed by an extremist group formed by notorious Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar. The statement from Al-Mourabitounes (The Sentinels) group was carried by Al-Jazeera and said the assault was carried out with al-Qaida's "Sahara Emirate."
"The search has started and I can tell you that we are looking for more than three people at the moment," said Maj. Modibo Nama Traore.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced the 10-day nationwide state of emergency beginning Friday night at midnight. He said a three-day period of national mourning was due to begin Monday, with flags flying at half-mast.
Keita had been attending a security summit in Chad on Friday but returned to Mali and convened an emergency cabinet meeting.
Northern Mali has been unstable since it fell to Tuareg separatists and Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. Despite a French-led military intervention in 2013 that drove the extremists from cities and towns, attacks have continued and extended farther south this year, including an assault on a Bamako restaurant popular with foreigners in March.
Even before the attack ended on Friday, some officials said it highlighted the need for tighter security measures and stricter surveillance.
"Today we have an emergency. These terrorists are a global threat that we need to attack globally," said lawmaker Amadou Thiam, a vice president of Mali's parliament. "Our government needs to introduce stricter identification and information systems so that we can track everybody."
The heavily armed assailants on Friday seized dozens of hostages at the hotel popular with foreigners, sparking a more than seven-hour siege by Malian troops backed by U.S. and French special forces.
The dead included one American, a 41-year-old development worker.