BAMAKO Gunmen on Monday attacked a hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako, that had been converted into the headquarters of a European Union military training operation, but there no casualties among the mission's personnel.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which began at around 6:30 p.m. local time (1830 GMT), but Mali and neighboring West African countries have increasingly been the target of Islamist militants, some of them affiliated with al Qaeda.
One of the assailants was killed and two suspects were arrested and were being interrogated, the country's internal security minister said.
A witness said the attack targeted Bamako's Nord-Sud Hotel, headquarters for the mission of nearly 600 EU personnel deployed to Mali to train its security forces.
"The attackers tried to force through the entry and the guards posted in front of the entrance opened fire. One attacker was killed," he said.
Sekou Tamboura was also near the hotel when the shooting erupted.
"We were next to the Hamdallaye Cemetery when the first shot rang out, then there was a second and a third. There were a few seconds of pause, then it kicked off and did not stop. It was every man for himself," Tamboura said.
The mission confirmed the attack on its official Twitter feed.
"EUTM-MALI HQ has been attacked. No EUTM-Mali personnel has been hurt ... during the attack," it said.
Azalaï Hotels, which runs the Nord-Sud Hotel, later posted on Twitter that the assailants had been repelled and the building had been secured.
"One of the assailants was killed. We are examining the sack he was carrying, which could contain explosives," Interior Security Minister Colonel Salif Traoré said on state television. "Two suspects were arrested and are being interrogated."
He added that security forces were carrying out operations around the EU headquarters and seeking to secure another building nearby.
A photo taken of the dead gunman seen by Reuters showed a man who appeared to be in his 20s, possibly from northern Mali, dressed stylishly in jeans, a brown shirt and Nike trainers, lying on his back in a pool of blood beside a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
A Reuters reporter at the scene of the attack said security forces, including Malian army special forces, had cordoned off the area while a cleanup operation was carried out.
Vehicles from Mali's United Nations peacekeeping mission were also visible.
The EU mission was deployed as part of efforts to stabilise Mali, which saw Islamist militants, some of them linked to al Qaeda, seize its desert north in 2012.
France led an intervention a year later to drive back the Islamists, fearing that the lawless zone could be used as a base for attacks against targets in Europe.
However, violence is again on the rise. Dozens of people were killed in a November raid on Bamako's Radisson Blu hotel claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group's North African branch.
A similar assault on a hotel in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, followed in January. AQIM also claimed responsibility for another attack that killed 19 people a beach resort town in Ivory Coast earlier this month.
(Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Mark Heinrich and G Crosse)