Four people held in a hotel in central Mali after an attack by Islamic extremists were freed Saturday following a long standoff with the army and special forces that left 12 people dead, Mali’s defense ministry adviser said.
After the operation ended four additional bodies were found in the Hotel Byblos in the town Sevare, including three hotel staff and one jihadi, said Lt. Col. Diarran Kone.
Officials had earlier announced that five Malian soldiers were killed, two jihadis and a U.N. contractor, bringing the total death toll to 12.
“The operation ended around 5 a.m. Four hostages were freed and four bodies found,” he said. “The operation was led by Mali’s gendarmerie with our partners.’
U.N. mission in Mali spokeswoman Radhia Achouri said the four freed were United Nations employees. She would not give their nationalities, but said they will eventually be flown to the Malian capital Bamako.
Islamic extremists started the attack Friday at the hotel in Sevare, about 600 kilometers (375 miles) north of Bamako.
Northern Mali fell under the control of jihadis back in 2012 but a French-led offensive ousted them from power in early 2013.
Remnants of the group have staged a number of attacks on U.N. peacekeepers and Malian forces, but Friday’s assault on a hotel known to be popular with U.N. pilots marked a serious escalation.
Sevare and the nearby town of Mopti in central Mali have long been the heart of the country’s tourism industry and had been spared from the attacks more common in the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu.
Mali’s jihadi groups have been stepping up their attacks further south from their strongholds in the north.
AP Big Story: 4 people freed from Mali hotel, 12 people dead.