19 hostages, 2 Islamist militants killed in Mali, as siege of luxury Radisson hotel ends
Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, has announced on state television that 21 people, including two militants, were killed and seven others wounded in Friday’s attack.
Three days of national mourning have been declared.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has confirmed that one US citizen was killed in the terrorist attack in Bamako. The UK said that the three Britons who were in the hotel are “safe,” while the Canadian government has confirmed that three Canadians are now safe too, including two people earlier taken hostage.
Two terrorists were holding 140 visitors and 30 hotel employees hostage, RTL France quoted Carlson Rezidor Group, the owners of the hotel, as saying. However, a senior security source put the number of gunmen in the hotel at 10, Reuters reported.
The siege continued for some seven hours. Gunfire continued to be heard at the scene after the hostages were reported freed, AP said, citing Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore, who said that operations are still ongoing.
Eaerlier, it was reported that at least 18 bodies were found at the hotel after the hostage situation ended, while a UN official told Reuters that peacekeepers have seen 27.
A group of Islamist gunmen involved in the attack continue to hold out against security forces, a security ministry spokesman told Reuters. “They are dug in in the upper floors. They are alone with the Malian special forces who are trying to dislodge them,” spokesman Amadou Sangho said.
An extremist group known as the Mourabitounes, which split from al-Qaida’s North Africa branch two years ago, claimed responsibility for the attack, AP reported, citing a recorded statement carried by Al-Jazeera.
The guests caught up in the hostage situation come from 14 different countries, according to media reports, including Germany, Belgium, Canada, Spain, America, France, and Russia.
The hotel has been approved by the UN for their personnel, and crew members of a number of international airlines also stay there. Air France said it had 12 airline crew members staying at the besieged hotel, who are now safe. At least five Turkish Airlines crew members have also been rescued, according to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
A Chinese guest at the hotel told China's Xinhua news agency via a mobile app that he was one of the hostages, the BBC reported.
Gunmen have reportedly let some hostages go, including those able to recite verses of the Koran, security sources told Reuters.
The president of Mali has interrupted his visit to Chad, and is heading back to his country following the hostage-taking at the Radisson hotel.
There are no UN employees among the hostages, according to the UN’s mission in Mali.
Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangoté, who is in Mali on a business visit and was welcomed by the country’s president and premier, has been staying at the Radisson Blu in Bamako, local media reported.
Witnesses at the scene reported that the attackers arrived in a diplomatic vehicle, and were “walking quietly” around seven stories of the hotel. “It’s happening on the seventh floor, the jihadists are now shooting in the corridor,” the security source said during the attack.
The Radisson Blu hotel is considered a major local hub for expats and tourists.
Gunmen arrived at around 7am and slammed through the security barrier at the hotel, according to the head security guard, Reuters reported.
A similar attack shook the West African country in August, when a suspected jihadist gunman killed 13 people – five of them UN employees – during a hostage siege in the central Malian town of Sevare.
After a military coup in 2012, Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali, which resulted in a French-led military intervention in 2013. The extremists were driven out from some of the northern localities, though the north is still insecure with militants carrying out attacks farther south in 2015.
About 1,000 French troops remain in the country.