Mayhem in Mali
SHAPED rather like a butterfly, Mali is a country of varied charm, linked to the mighty Niger river and the location of legendary cultural sites – Timbuktu and the imposing and dramatic Bandiagara escarpment, home to the biblical culture of the Dogon.
It has become a tourist destination of choice on the African continent, but recent years have seen the country wracked by insurgency and strife.
It became linked to global events yesterday when Islamist extremists stormed a luxury hotel in the capital, Bamako, and held out against commando forces who evacuated civilians from the building, then dug-in on the hotel’s upper floors.
At least 27 people, a preliminary count, were reported dead. There had been at least 170 inside, many of them foreigners.
Mali is in the Sahel region of Western Africa, a vast area plagued by militant groups. The former French colony has, for almost a decade, waged war against Touareg rebels and Islamist radicals. A jihadist group, Al Mourabitoun allied to al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the latest attack.
The assault comes a week after the wave of Islamic State attacks in Paris, giving rise to speculation it was a revenge attack following events in France and Belgium.
In February 2013, after French forces had driven out jihadist forces, French president Francois Hollande travelled to Timbuktu to receive a tumultuous welcome from a grateful population.
Two years on, there is the danger Mali may once more be under threat from violent extremists.