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Two sentenced to death in Mali over hotel, restaurant attacks

BAMAKO (Reuters) - A Malian court handed a death sentence to a suspected jihadist and his co-defendant on Wednesday, his lawyer said, after he pleaded guilty to shooting five people to death in a 2015 attack and planning two other attacks targeting Westerners that killed 37.

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In a court appearance in Bamako on Wednesday, Fawaz Ould Ahmed described in detail how he carried out the attack on La Terrace restaurant in March 2015.

He said he was also involved in planning a raid that killed 17 at Hotel Byblos in the town of Sevare in August and another that killed 20 people at Bamako’s Radisson Blu hotel that November.

The attacks marked a brazen new phase in jihadist operations across West Africa, in which top hotels and tourist destinations frequented by Western tourists, aid workers and diplomats were no longer considered safe.

“I regret nothing,” Ould Ahmed told the court, adding that he had been seeking revenge for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad printed in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The court later found him and his co-defendant guilty and sentenced both to death, Ould Ahmed’s lawyer Tiessolo Konare told Reuters, vowing to appeal the ruling.

In January 2015, two months before Ould Ahmed’s first attack, Islamist militants in Paris had stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo and shot dead 12 people because of the cartoons.

Ould Ahmed described taking a taxi to La Terrasse restaurant and carrying out the shooting.

“On arrival I went to the toilets, put on a balaclava, took out my Kalashnikov and shot those unbelievers,” he said.

At the time, militant groups Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mali as well as for attacks on a restaurant in neighbouring Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou and a beach resort town in Ivory Coast.

Ould Ahmed was captured in Bamako in 2016 as he was preparing to carry out another attack armed with grenades and a suitcase filled with weapons on behalf of al Mourabitoun, according to local authorities.

Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Edward McAllister, Alexandra Hudson and Jonathan Oatis

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