- The assault on a luxury hotel in Mali's capital that killed 19 people was a clear attempt to derail a fragile peace process meant to stabilize the country's volatile north, a representative of northern separatist groups said yesterday.
Halting peace negotiations have been dragging on between the central government and northern separatist groups for more than two years in an effort to end the disputes that turned large sections of the country into a haven for radical Islamic terrorists.
The talks have shown some promise in recent months. The Radisson Blu hotel attacked by two gunmen on Friday was preparing to host a meeting on implementing the latest accords.
"The attack was targeting the peace agreement," said Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati, a representative of the Coordination of Azawad Movements, known by its French acronym CMA. The CMA is a coalition of groups seeking autonomy in northern Mali and includes ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs.
"The jihadis are in different groups but their goal is the same, and that's to hinder implementation of the peace accord," Sidati said.
It was the secular separatist groups that first wrested northern Mali from the government in 2012, using weapons looted from arsenals in neighboring Libya, but they were soon overtaken by al Qaeda-allied radicals.
In 2013, the French pushed the Islamic extremists out of cities and towns, though they continue to carry out attacks on U.N. peacekeepers.
The peace talks between the government and the separatists excluded the radicals, who have spoken out against the negotiations, accusing participants of betraying the population's desire for independence.
The hotel attack was claimed by the Al-Mourabitoun (the Sentinels) radical group which has links to al Qaeda. The group's statement said attacks would continue until the government ended its "aggression against our people in the north and the center of Mali."
Senegalese President Macky Sall, current chairman of the West African ECOWAS bloc, visited Bamako yesterday and went to the Radisson with Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. At a joint news conference early last night, Sall said a regional meeting to discuss security concerns would be convened in the coming days, though he provided no details.
Anita Datar, of Takoma Park, Md., was the lone American victim of the attack. As a Peace Corps volunteer, an expert in global health and the mother of a 7-year-old boy, Datar devoted her life to caring for and helping others, her family said.
"We are devastated that Anita is gone," her family said in a statement issued through the State Department. "It's unbelievable to us that she has been killed in this senseless act of violence and terrorism."
Datar, 41, was a senior manager at Palladium Group, an international development organization with offices in Washington, her family said. As a public-health expert, she focused on family planning and HIV issues, work that took her to Africa often in the past 15 years. She also worked in Asia and South America, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among those mourning her death.
"Anita Datar was a bright light who gave help and hope to people in need around the world," Clinton said in a statement on Saturday. "Anita represented the best of America's generous spirit."
Datar was the former partner of David Garten, an attorney who worked as a senior policy adviser to Clinton in the Senate.