Four hostages have been freed from a hotel in central Mali after a standoff with Islamic extremists that left 12 people dead, Sky News reports. Mali’s defence ministry adviser Colonel Diaran Kone said militants attacked Hotel Byblos in Sevare, which is used by United Nations staff, on Friday. Malian soldiers and special forces backed by French soldiers stormed the building and brought the siege to an end early on Saturday.
Colonel Kone said: “It seems to be over and it has ended well. We freed the four hostages.” The dead included hotel staff, jihadis, Malian soldiers and a UN contractor. The hostages were UN employees and will be flown to the Malian capital Bamako, said UN spokeswoman Radhia Achouri. Ukraine and Russia said their citizens were among the hostages while South African and French nationals are also believed to have been staying at the hotel, a Malian military official said.
A French-led offensive ousted the jihadis from power in the north in early 2013. But remnants of the group have stepped up their attacks on UN peacekeepers and Malian forces further south. Friday’s attack in the heart of the country’s tourism industry marks a serious escalation of the situation.