Gunmen attack resort outside Mali's capital, two dead

BAMAKO, June 18 (Reuters) - At least two people were killed in an attack by gunmen on Sunday at a luxury resort outside Mali's capital Bamako popular with Western expatriates, the security ministry said, but 36 guests had been rescued.

Gunmen stormed Le Campement Kangaba near Dougourakoro, to the east of the capital Bamako, a resort foreign residents often visit for weekend breaks.

"At first we thought they were armed bandits but we know how armed bandits operate, they don't hold territory, so now we think it is a terrorist attack," Mali's Security Minister Salif Traore told journalists outside the entrance to the resort late Sunday, part of which was on fire.

Malian security forces, United Nations peacekeeping mission vehicles and French military armored vehicles were surrounding the resort, according to a Reuters witness. A helicopter was circling overhead.

Click through images from the scene:

Security Ministry spokesman Baba Cisse said by telephone that two people had been killed, including a French-Gabonese citizen and another whose nationality was not yet known. Two others had been wounded, one civilian and a policeman, he said. An attacker had also been wounded and fled, leaving a sub machine gun and six bottles of explosives behind, he said.

Malian state TV reported that 36 guests had so far been rescued.

Witness Boubacar Sangare was just outside the compound during the attack. "Westerners were fleeing the encampment while two plainclothes police exchanged fire with the assailants," he said.

A spokesman for French forces in Mali declined to immediately comment.

Security has gradually worsened across Mali since French forces pushed back Islamist and Tuareg rebel fighters in 2013 from swathes of the north they had occupied the previous year.

Initially concentrated in the desert north, attacks have increasingly struck the center and south, around the capital Bamako. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and another militant group claimed responsibility for an attack on a Bamako hotel in late 2015 in which 20 people were killed.

French troops and a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force have battled to stabilize the former French colony, which is riven by ethnic conflict and plagued by dozens of armed groups. (Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Dakar; editing by Susan Fenton and Diane Craft)