27 people killed, along with two gunmen, in Mali hotel attack

African jihadists linked to al-Qaida claim responsibility for Radisson Blu hotel assault

Footage taken by a Chinese tourist purports to show the outside of the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali as a hostage situation is happening. Video: New China TV

 

A hostage situation at a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, has ended and security forces have killed two Islamist gunmen who stormed the building earlier in the day, security sources said on Friday.

UN officials said a total of 27 people were killed, along with two jihadis, in the attack, UN officials.

UN peacekeepers saw 12 corpses in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor, an official said on condition of anonymity. Later, the UN confirmed the number.

Police had moved in and out of the hotel escorting out civilians, some of them wounded, a witness said.

The jihadist group Al Mourabitoun, allied to al Qaeda and based in the desert north of the former French colony, claimed responsibility for the attack. The former French colony has been battling Islamist rebels for years.

More than seven hours after the initial assault, a security source declared the drama over, along with the deaths of two militants.

A man who worked for a Belgian regional parliament was among the dead.

Minister of Internal Security Colonel Salif Traor said the gunmen had burst through a security barrier at 7am, spraying the area with gunfire and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”).

France has stationed 3,500 troops in northern Mali to try to restore stability after a 2012 Tuareg rebellion which was later hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists.

Bursts of gunfire were heard as the assailants went through the hotel room by room and floor by floor, one senior security source and a witness told Reuters.

Some people were freed by the attackers after showing they could recite verses from the Koran, while others managed to escape or were brought out by security forces.

One of the rescued hostages, celebrated Guinean singer “Bambino“ Diabate, said he had overheard two of the assailants speaking English as they searched an adjacent room.

“We heard shots coming from the reception area. I didn’t dare go out of my room because it felt like this wasn’t just simple pistols – these were shots from military weapons,” Diabate said.

“The attackers went into the room next to mine. I stayed still, hidden under the bed, not making a noise,” he said. “I heard them say in English ‘Did you load it?’, ‘’et’s go’.“

The raid on the hotel, which lies just west of the city centre near government ministries and diplomatic offices, came a week after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris, raising fears that French nationals were being specifically targeted.

Twelve Air France flight crew were in the hotel but all were brought out safely, the French national carrier said.

A Turkish official said five of seven Turkish Airlines staff had also managed to flee. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said three of 10 Chinese tourists caught inside had been rescued.

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in Chad, his office said.

One security source said as many as 10 gunmen had stormed the building, although the company that runs the hotel, Rezidor Group, said it understood that there were only two attackers.

If Islamist militant group Al Mourabitoun is confirmed as responsible for the attack in Mali, it will be the latest time it has staged a major attack despite setbacks and the supposed death of its leader.

Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar has been a key figure for years in insurgencies across North Africa and the Saharan border region, but in June authorities in Libya said he had been killed by a US air strike there.

US military officials said he was targeted, only for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to deny four days later that he was dead.

In a statement posted on Twitter on June 19th, the group said he was “still alive and well and he wanders and roams in the land of Allah, supporting his allies and vexing his enemies“.

His group now claims to have stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on Friday in a joint operation with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Al Mourabitoun has staged several attacks in Mali and the region, but Belmokhtar has had a troubled relationship with al Qaeda. His group has not pledged allegiance to Islamic State, as Nigerian militant group Boko Haram did in March.

One security source said the Bamako attack could serve to sway global attention to al Qaeda from Islamic State.

Al Mourabitoun “is an offshoot of al Qaeda, whose roots go back to the Algerian insurgency of the 1990s . . . Their strategy has been to launch these fairly dramatic attacks,“ said Gregory Mann, professor of West African history at Columbia University in New York.

The group‘s leadership is mostly from Algeria and Mauritania but it has flourished in Mali and drawn militants from other West African countries including Togo, Burkina Faso and Ghana, he said.

Al Mourabitoun launched an assault in August on a hotel in the town of Sevare, 600 km (375 miles) northeast of Bamako, in which 17 people including five workers for the United Nations mission in Mali were killed.

In March, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on a restaurant in Bamako that killed five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian security officer.

Militants linked to Belmokhtar stormed a major gas plant in Algeria’s Sahara desert in January 2013 and killed 40 employees in a four-day siege and have been blamed for several kidnappings of foreigners.

Belmokhtar‘s greatest coup came in 2012 when his men and members of al Qaeda‘s north African arm, AQIM, formed a loose alliance that seized northern Mali‘s desert regions. He was reported killed in fighting in Mali in 2013.

The militants were scattered by a French offensive in January 2013 but insurgents have continued to carry out sporadic attacks despite the presence of some 3,000 French troops in the region and several thousand U.N. peacekeepers in Mali.

Follow our live updates from Bamako, Mali