BARELY A week after terrorists struck in France, armed gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali, taking scores of hostages. At least 20 people were killed in the siege at the hotel, a popular spot among expatriates and foreign diplomats. Al-Mourabitoun, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, initially took responsibility for the attack. Another extremist group, the Macina Liberation Front, also claimed responsibility. Following the deaths of 130 in Paris and horrendous attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Mali killings stand as a reminder of the global threat to the lives of innocent civilians posed by Islamist extremists.
The Bamako attack took the life of one American, Anita Datar, of Takoma Park. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Ms. Datar worked as a global health policy expert for an international development company in Washington. Her family condemned “this senseless act of violence and terrorism” in a statement. “Everything she did in her life she did to help others — as a mother, public health expert, daughter, sister and friend.”
The attack in Bamako also cast a renewed light on political turmoil in Mali, which has seen numerous uprisings since its independence in 1960. Terrorist attacks by armed groups have been on the rise this year. The nation has been battling both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Tuareg militants in the northern part of the country. A French intervention in 2013 helped restore order and was instrumental in the setup of the U.N. mission in Mali after a coup in 2012. But as in other countries, defeating terrorism is a process, not a one-time event, and depends on improving governance as well as waging war. Unfortunately, the country’s troubles have faded from the spotlight as global attention on terrorism in West Africa shifted to Boko Haram’s rampages in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. In Mali, a number of insurgent groups still compete for dominance, including Ansar Dine, which occupied the famed city of Timbuktu in 2012. The U.N. Mali mission has had 40 troops killed and more than 170 injured. On Saturday an attack on a U.N. mission camp in the northern part of the country killed three people, including two U.N. peacekeepers. Ansar Dine has claimed responsibility.
After the attacks in Paris, France’s military faces difficult choices. Germany has offered to help by sending 650 troops to relieve France in Mali. For the United States, now would be a good time to improve the management and capacity of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which has allocated more than $20 million to Mali. But international interventions cannot do the job alone. Mali’s government needs to tackle the corruption that has hindered its efforts in combating extremism.