BAMAKO, Mali — Gunmen burst into a restaurant in Mali's most famous city of Timbuktu on Friday, grabbed four tourists dining there and executed one when he refused to climb into their truck, according to a witness and an official who inspected the body.
The armed men entered the Amanar restaurant in the afternoon and pointed their guns at four tourists dining inside, said Moussa Boubacar, a client at the restaurant. The four followed the gunmen outside, but when the gunmen tried to make them enter a vehicle, one of the tourists refused, Boubacar said. The kidnappers opened fire, killing him on the spot, Boubacar said.
Their nationalities could not immediately be confirmed, but witnesses describe them as European.
Dramane Diallo, the regional director of Timbuktu's civil protection division, said that he rushed to the scene and found the corpse of an elderly white man, who residents said was the tourist that had refused to enter the car.
Until a few years ago, Timbuktu was one of the most visited destinations in Africa, but it is now one of the many former tourist hotspots in Mali that have been deemed too dangerous to visit by foreign embassies because of kidnappings by the local chapter of al-Qaida.
The incident Friday comes after two French citizens were grabbed in the middle of the night from their hotel in the Malian town of Hombori on Thursday. Neither kidnapping has yet been claimed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, whose members have kidnapped and ransomed more than 50 Europeans and Canadians since 2003.
If Friday's kidnapping is by AQIM, it will mark the first time they have taken a hostage inside of Timbuktu's city limits. Thursday's kidnapping would be another first – the first hostage taking south of the Niger River.
The group's footprint has grown dramatically since 2006, when the Algerian-led cell first joined al-Qaida. Security experts estimate the group has been able to raise around $130 million from ransom payments alone.
In France, the Paris prosecutor's office has opened a preliminary investigation into the kidnappings of the two French nationals who were inside their hotel in the town of Hombori when the kidnappers arrived. The gunmen tied up the manager, guard and cook, before taking the foreigners.
The investigation was opened for "kidnapping by an organized gang linked to a terrorist enterprise," the judicial officials said.
Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal, and Elaine Ganley in Paris, contributed to this report.