Mali has begun the trial of alleged Islamist gunmen accused of killing two dozen people in separate attacks – both targeting foreigners – on a luxury hotel and a restaurant in the capital Bamako, in 2015.
A Frenchman, a Belgian and three Malians were killed in March of that year when militants opened fire on La Terrasse, a restaurant and nightclub, while a subsequent attack in November on the Radisson Blu hotel left 20 people dead.
The trial’s main defendant is Fawaz Ould Ahmed, a Mauritanian national who is also known by the alias "Ibrahim 10", and is suspected to be a member of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Mourabitoun Islamist group. He is also reportedly “a lieutenant” of the Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
Ould Ahmed is accused of taking part in the La Terrasse murders and of planning and executing the Radisson Blu hotel siege, during which some 170 people were taken hostage.
Malian commandos were able to raid the hotel and free the surviving hostages. Al-Mourabitoun then claimed it carried out the attack – one of the first to deliberately target westerners in Mali – in cooperation with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Two other men are also being tried over the attacks, though it is unclear when they will face court or how long the terror proceedings – a rare event in the Sahel – will last.
AFP reports said guards on Tuesday led Ould Ahmed to the courthouse, where survivors of the attacks were present. Some representatives of the foreign victims were able to follow the trial via videolink.
Mali is battling an eight-year insurgency that has caused divisions between Bamako and Paris over how to manage the crisis.
In a visit to Mali on Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian firmly closed the door to possible future dialogue with terror groups.
His comments come after interim Malian Prime Minister Moctar Ouane said he would be open to discussions with Islamist rebels that might look at incorporating “greater recognition of Islam in public life”.
Le Drian, whose visit marks the first by a French politician since army officers toppled president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August, said the reason for his trip was to establish a “relationship of trust” with Mali’s new authorities.