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The Mali Hotel Assault: The Day After


Now we'd like to bring you up to date on the situation in Mali. Authorities there are still searching for all those responsible for a Friday terrorist attack on a hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Two known attackers are dead, but authorities believe that others responsible might still be at large. They held 170 people hostage for hours and killed at least 19, including one American. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's Africa correspondent, and she joins us from London to give us some context on this story. Ofeibea, thanks for speaking with us.


MARTIN: So Ofeibea, how has the government of Mali reacted to all this?

QUIST-ARCTON: Mali is in shock, and the president declared three days of mourning and also a state of emergency for 10 days. But he spoke to the nation today, and he said, you know, across the world, nobody is safe. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't live. He pointed to Paris and now to Bamako. But he says everyone has to fight together to drive these haters of people out.

MARTIN: So Mali has been fighting separatists for some time now. What do we know about the group that claimed credit for this attack?

QUIST-ARCTON: That it's an al-Qaida-linked group. It's called al-Mourabitoun.

MARTIN: Has this particular group targeted Mali before? And is there any pattern to their targets? For example, do they tend to seek out places frequented by foreigners or anything of that sort?

QUIST-ARCTON: I don't think it's just al-Mourabitoun or an al-Qaida linked group or, say, Boko Haram. They all know that if they target somewhere there are foreigners, they are going to get headlines. So I don't think it is just this group. But talking specifically about Mali, there has been a proliferation of Islamist extremist groups. Two years ago, they were driven out of the north of Mali that they had occupied for almost a year. They created havoc there. This was one of the groups, but we had other groups. And they are all across this Sahara Desert region - the Sahel - all the way from Mauritania and, of course, all the way to Somalia, where al-Shabab is operating. So it is a huge problem for Africa, and it's making West Africa shudder.

MARTIN: I was going to ask about this. Is there some reason why this particular part of the continent has been targeted?

QUIST-ARCTON: Because it's the vast Sahara Desert, and it is so porous - the borders between Mali, Niger, Senegal - and it is un-policed. So it's not only Islamist extremism. We've seen drug trafficking; we've seen human trafficking. But specifically in Mali, people are saying, well, it's because Mali is too close to France. France came to the rescue of Mali and attacked Islamist groups. Now we are striking back.

MARTIN: As you just mentioned, this is a regional problem. Is there a regional strategy for dealing with this?

QUIST-ARCTON: It is difficult. You have a U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali and yet look what happened. These groups are able to strike at will, with hit-and-run, suicide bombings and then these sorts of sieges on hotels. The Malian security forces, backed by French security forces, backed by - we're told American troops were in the mix - yes, they managed to release hostages, but that was after. It's very difficult to know exactly what to do. But you're right, there has to be a regional and continental strategy because this is hitting African countries across the continent.

MARTIN: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa correspondent. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.