The deadly siege at a Mali luxury hotel that left at least 19 people dead Friday is just one incident in a long history of clashes between the government and minority ethnic groups that have occasionally allied themselves with jihadis, the Financial Times reported.
The former French colony has battled Islamic extremism for years, with Friday’s attacks in Bamako highlighting the crumbling peace process between the city and northern groups, such as the Tuaregs. The west African country contains large swaths of desert that remain -- for the most part -- ungoverned, allowing the ethnic groups to take charge.
“It is not so much that the peace process is failing but more that it failed to include important actors to begin with. The negotiations left out the Islamists and dealt with the Tuaregs, but the Islamists are the most serious challenge to the state,” Pierre Englebert, professor of African politics at Pomona College in California, told the Financial Times.
Mali had been considered a beacon of African democracy and western counterterrorism for several years, until the Tuareg rebels took control of northern Mali in 2012. Friday’s attacks, however, were claimed by Al-Mourabitoun, an al Qaeda-affiliated militant group in northern Mali.
Al-Mourabitoun had also claimed responsibility for a separate attack on a Mali hotel in August in the town of Sevare, leaving 12 dead, including five United Nations staff members. The incident came after the extremist fighters, who had staged a military coup in Bamako, were dispersed and driven out of towns by a 2013 French-led military offensive.
The Radisson hotel, located in Mali’s western business district alongside government ministries, was likely a target due to the international clientele it attracts, including foreign diplomats, aid workers and security contractors. The Radisson Blu had been hosting dozens of foreign guests at the time it was attacked Friday morning.
On Friday evening, authorities identified the sole American killed in Friday’s attacks on the Radisson Blu hotel as Anita Datar, a 41-year-old international development agency worker from Maryland.