Bamako (AFP) - Three foreigners and a Malian civilian and soldier were killed in an jihadist assault on a popular tourist resort near Mali's capital, the country's security minister said Monday.
Salif Traore said a Chinese man, a Portuguese man, a Gabonese national and a Malian were killed when gunmen fired on guests at the Kangaba Le Campement resort to the east of Bamako on Sunday.
It was the latest in a series of high-profile assaults in north and west Africa targeting locals and tourists, including in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, but no-one has yet claimed responsibility.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said two EU staff were among the victims, whom she described as a Malian woman and a Portuguese man.
At least four suspected jihadists have been placed in custody while four attackers were killed at the scene, Traore told AFP.
He said 36 hostages, mostly French and Malian, were freed, but around 20 members of Mali's special forces remained at the eco-lodge Monday.
Kangaba is known for its popularity with expatriates. On Sunday, it hosted members of the EU's army training mission in Mali, and of MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping force in the country.
Witnesses said EU and UN staff raised the alert to speed up the deployment of Malian and French special forces when the shooting began.
Some assailants had shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest), other witnesses interviewed by AFP said.
A Kangaba employee described ushering clients into a hiding place, a possible explanation for the relatively low death toll compared with the lives lost in previous assaults on tourist targets in west Africa.
"When I saw the terrorists, I immediately showed clients an opening where they could hide themselves," said Lancina Traore.
Among those saved Sunday were two Spaniards, two Dutch and two Egyptian nationals, according to the security ministry.
Domestic and foreign forces deployed in Mali's troubled north and centre have been repeated targets of jihadist forces, but attacks on civilians in and around the capital are rare, with the last major incident in November 2015 when gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako.
That siege, which led to the death of 20 people, led to the government imposing a state of emergency which has been in place more or less ever since.
Earlier this month, the US embassy in Bamako had warned about "a possible increased threat of attacks against Western diplomatic missions, places of worship" and other places frequented by Westerners.
In January, Kangaba's owner Herve Depardieu had complained about the "alarming security information" issued by foreign consulates.
In a sign of Mali's ongoing instability, one soldier was killed and three wounded on Monday in the northern town of Bamba, in what the armed forces said was yet another "terrorist attack".
New anti-terror force
In 2012, Mali's north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda who hijacked an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising, though the Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013.
Since then, jihadists have continued to mount numerous attacks on civilians and the army, as well as on French and UN forces stationed there.
The unrest has continued despite a 2015 peace deal between the government and Tuareg-led rebels that aimed to tackle some of the grievances held by separatists in the north.
Despite the presence of the 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission and French troops serving in a separate counter-terrorism force operating across the Sahel region, instability is growing.
France is pressing the UN Security Council to quickly adopt a resolution to fund and support a new African anti-jihadist force in the Sahel, comprising troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
But Washington says the resolution is too vague. As the leading financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, it also wants to tighten spending.
Mogherini, who has promised 50 million euros ($56 million) to back the new force, said Monday that Europeans and Africans were "brothers and sisters" in the fight against terror.
Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who heads the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, recently warned that "terrorists" are extending their reach in the region, notably in the centre of Mali.