Malian security forces mobilised Sunday to hunt the killers of two Europeans and three locals in a nightclub attack claimed by jihadists - the first to target Westerners in the capital.
A Frenchman, a Belgian, a Malian policeman and two others died early Saturday when a masked gunman burst into the nightclub in the capital Bamako, spraying automatic gunfire and throwing grenades.
Al-Murabitoun, a jihadist group run by leading Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has claimed responsibility in an audio recording carried by Mauritanian news agency Al-Akbar.
The recording said the operation was carried out by "brave combatants from Al-Murabitoun to avenge our prophet against the unbelieving West which has insulted and mocked him".
The investigation was expected to focus not only on tracking the gunman but also an accomplice witnesses reported seeing during the attack and a black four-wheel drive vehicle apparently used for the getaway.
The United Nations peacekeeping force, which has around 10,000 personnel in Mali, said it has made investigators and crimes scenes experts available to the authorities.
Police earlier announced they had arrested two Malians soon after but later said the pair were not involved, describing them as "not terrorists, but bandits".
Customers of La Terrasse, in the lively Hippodrome district, said the gunman arrived in the car and headed to the upstairs restaurant and bar area where they began shooting.
Reports later emerged that he had already killed the Belgian and two of the Malian victims before entering the venue. As he left he lobbed two grenades at a security patrol and one went off, killing the policeman, witnesses said.
"The killer came here because there were foreigners. He wanted to kill foreigners, that's for sure," a waiter at the venue told AFP. - 'Cowardly attack'
The Frenchman was named as 30-year-old Fabien Guyomard, a single man with no children, who had lived in Bamako since 2007 and worked at ICMS Africa, a US company specialising in luxury construction.
Hospital sources said eight people were wounded, including three Swiss nationals, one of them a woman. Two of the Swiss were weapons experts advising the Malian government as part of international aid. They were in a critical but stable condition after being hit by bullets, the Swiss military said in Geneva.
In the moments after the attack an AFP correspondent witnessed the French victim being stretchered out of the venue while the bodies of the police officer, a guard and the Belgian could be seen outside.
"They reportedly shouted 'death to whites' on entering the restaurant... It sounds like an attack against the presence of Europeans. Then they apparently targeted the French national," a diplomatic source said.
French President Francois Hollande led the international outcry, condemning the "cowardly attack" and vowing to meet Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to offer Paris's help to its former colony.
Belgium, the United States and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have all expressed their revulsion at the bloodshed. Mali's vast desert north is riven by ethnic rivalries and an Islamist insurgency.
Jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda controlled an area of desert the size of Texas for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention in 2013 that partly drove them from the region.
But day-to-day life in the capital, a city of 1.8 million, has been largely unaffected by the northern conflict. "It's the first attack of this type in Bamako," said Pierre Boilley, an analyst specialising in sub-Saharan Africa.