Friday, February 5, 2016 9:37 pm
It has come to light that Nigerian police peacekeepers camped at a former hotel in the ancient city of Timbuktu,Mali narrowly escaped the Jihadist gunmen who stormed their camp.
A military source at the site said Nigerian policemen at the site had managed to flee and were never taken hostage.
It was a lucky break for the United Nations.
UN Mission spokesman, Olivier Salgado said the premises were empty at the time of the attack, barring a few guards, as the contingent was in the process of moving out.
Malian troops backed by U.N. helicopters stormed the base later and recaptured it from militants who had seized it at dawn.
Malian Defence Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly told reporters that an army commander was killed in the rescue operation as well as three of the attackers, whom he called terrorists but did not identify. A fourth assailant blew himself up while others were being sought, he added.
The incident followed a series of bold attacks by al Qaeda militants in West Africa, including a hotel siege in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou last month in which 30 people including many foreigners were killed.
A group of around six militants drove up to the U.N. base in the former Hotel Palmeraie at the entrance to Timbuktu at dawn and detonated a car bomb before holing up inside, security sources said. A gunbattle ensued.
“It’s over now,” said U.N. mission spokesman Olivier Salgado. “They are now inspecting the site and looking for explosive devices.” The former hotel had been taken over exclusively by a Nigerian U.N. police contingent.
Islamist militants briefly held Timbuktu, an ancient trade and cultural hub, in 2012 and other northern towns until French forces drove them out a year later. But the militants have stepped up attacks in Mali in recent months as part of a growing regional insurgency.
During the invasion, Timbuktu’s famous mausoleums were destroyed by Islamist jihadists and restoration work was only officially completed at the UNESCO site this week.