Kidal: A civil servant kidnapped as militants ambushed government offices in the Malian rebel bastion of Kidal told Thursday of the "carnage" that unfolded as fellow hostages were murdered in hail of machine gun fire.
Abdoulaye Maiga and his colleagues were preparing for a visit by Prime Minister Moussa Mara as soldiers and rebels began shooting at each other outside, forcing a group of government officials who had arrived from Bamako to flee the building.
"When the delegation withdrew, we were surrounded... A prefect came to tell us `well, we`re surrounded -- it`s over for everyone`," Maiga told AFP.
"A few minutes later (the rebels) returned. They started firing rockets into the room, and then all those who were in this big room for the reception were sprayed with bullets. It was carnage."
The drama unfolded during a firefight between the army and separatists from several militias including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) which left eight Malian soldiers and 28 insurgents dead.
Eight civil servants died, including the prefect who came to warn the group of the danger, Maiga said.
Speaking in Bamako on Wednesday after his 48-hour ordeal ended with his release along with 31 other hostages, Maiga said the militants began searching the building -- the headquarters of the regional governor -- for other workers.
"There too, they let off bursts of gunfire. About 20 us... hid under a staircase that overlooked the governor`s room. We were all piled up there."
Composed but clearly still in shock, Maiga said he believed the darkness of their hiding place had cloaked them from their captors, saving them from death.Over two days, the hostages were stripped of their belongings, separated, moved repeatedly and crammed into rooms without ventilation by young fighters, some whom were evidently under the influence of drugs, Maiga said.
When relatives rang the confiscated mobile phones of the hostages, they were told their loved-ones were "already dead".
"People called me many times and they said I was dead," Maiga said.
Negotiators from MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, finally secured their release on Monday.
Kidal is the cradle of Mali`s Tuareg separatist movement, which claims independence for a vast swathe of northern desert it calls "Azawad" and has launched several rebellions since the 1960s.
The MNLA denies a government claim that it has been supported in its assault on Kidal by Islamist groups and drug traffickers.
Maiga said however he saw Islamists on the day of his release on the road to Kidal`s airport chanting "Allahu Akbar", a common Islamic Arabic expression meaning "God is greater".
Home Minister Sada Samake paid tribute to the hostages for "agreeing to go and serve" in Kidal, in extremely difficult conditions.
"You endured all kinds of humiliation. What happened to you is inexplicable and inexcusable."