At least 12 people are thought to have been killed, including five UN workers, in a hostage siege at a hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare. A further four UN workers survived by hiding in cupboards for almost 24 hours as the attack unfolded.
The suspected Islamist gunmen had retreated to the hotel after attacking a nearby army base. The siege was ended after government troops stormed the building early on Saturday.
No group has said it carried out the attack. At least two of the gunmen are dead and seven have been arrested, while five Malian soldiers were said to have been killed in the attack.
Minusma, the United Nations’ mission in Mali, said in a statement that two Ukrainians, a Nepalese, a South African and a Malian died in the siege.
The four that walked out alive had kept in touch with the outside world on their mobile phones. The gunmen burst into the Byblos Hotel early on Friday, sparking fierce exchanges of gunfire with the army who soon surrounded the building. Mali has been fighting Islamist rebels in the north for a number of years.
In recent months Islamist militants have shifted their attention from the north of Mali, where French and UN peacekeepers are stationed, to the south and centre of the country, says the BBC’s Alex Duval Smith in the capital, Bamako.
There is a military presence in Sevare, but the town has not seen fighting before Sevare, which is about 600km (370 miles) north-east of Bamako, is a trading hub that serves the historic riverside city of Mopti.
A local resident told the BBC on Friday that it was the first time the town has faced an attack like this. “Since the beginning of the fighting in Mali, we haven’t experienced such a situation in Sevare.” “We would expect these things to happen in Gao or Timbuktu, but this is the first time it has happened in Sevare,” he said.