BAMAKO, Mali (AP) – Fatoumata Soumare and her four children were laid to rest in a Muslim cemetery in Mali’s capital Sunday in the presence of a grieving family and state officials following a Bronx building fire that killed 10 and shook the Malian community in the United States.

About 700 people prayed under tents near the Soumare family home before continuing to the cemetery. Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure attended, along with the country’s prime minister and a U.S. government delegation.

Following tradition, the men massed in the front of the bowing crowd, while women prayed in the back.

At the cemetery, a small group of men filled the graves – some with shovels and some scooping up dirt with their hands. Red dust caught up in the wind coated onlookers and a few young boys covered their faces to protect their eyes.

“All deaths are certainly painful, but that which brings us together today prompts even more reflection, and submission to God,” said Boubacar Soumare, a cousin of the father who spoke on behalf of the family.

The mother and four children were among 10 people of Malian descent killed when a fire engulfed their shared row house on March 7. The blaze was one the deadliest in New York in years.

The father of the family, a cab driver who does not have U.S. citizenship, returned home to Mali to bury his family having been granted special permission to return to the U.S. afterward. Mamadou Soumare was embraced by members of his extended family when he arrived Saturday evening with the coffins.

The remains of Mariam Fatoumata Soumare, her 7-year-old daughter Hassimy, 4-year-old son Djibril and 7-month-old twins Harouna and Sise, arrived in Bamako via Air France, which paid for the transport of the coffins.

The family was killed when a space heater set their house ablaze. Nine of the victims were children, including the five children of a fellow Malian immigrant who shared the house. When the blaze erupted, father Mamadou, 48, was driving his livery cab. His wife called him on his cell phone, pleading for help as the flames swallowed their home.

Relatives spoke of the importance of returning the bodies to their homeland, even if none of the children had spent time in Mali.

“It’s hard for us. But we thank God for having made it possible for their bodies to return to the land of their ancestors,” said Sekou Soumare, the uncle of the dead mother.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended a memorial service before the departure of the remains, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton attended a separate prayer service.

Long before the fire, Fatoumata Soumare, 42, had expressed her wish to be buried alongside her father in a Bamako cemetery, said Michael Wildes, a New York-based attorney for the family.


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