Hostages Freed in Malian Hotel Siege, at Least 27 Dead
NAIROBI — Gunmen driving car with diplomatic plates storm luxury hotel in Bamako and take 170 hostage.
NAIROBI – A dramatic day-long siege at a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital has ended after Malian security services, aided by U.S. special forces, overpowered a group of gunmen that took 170 people hostage earlier in the day.
Two of the gunmen were reportedly killed along with at least 27 hostages, according to U.N. peacekeepers quoted by Reuters.
“They currently have no more hostages in their hands and forces are in the process of tracking them down,” Malian Security Minister Salif Traore said of the gunmen in a news conference Friday evening.
No claim of responsibility has yet been issued in the attack on the Radisson Blu in downtown Bamako. But masked gunmen reportedly entered the 190-room hotel around 7:00 a.m. local time shouting “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great,” in Arabic — and fired on guards stationed at the security gate. One witness told Reuters he overheard the attackers speaking English; another said they arrived in a vehicle bearing diplomatic license plates.
Hostages who were able to recite verses from the Quran were freed immediately, Reuters reported.
Al Qaeda-linked insurgents seized much of northern Mali in 2012, prompting a French military intervention in early 2013. A 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force took over most security operations six months later, once the militants had been forced from the majority of urban areas, but attacks on government and U.N. targets have continued.
In August, at least nine people, including five U.N. contractors, were killed in a 24-hour siege at a hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare.
The attack on the Radisson Blu came less than a week after suspected Islamic State extremists carried out a series of coordinated attacks in Paris that killed 129 people. Islamic State militants in Syria later told Reuters that the French military presence in Mali was at least part of the group’s justification for the Paris attack.
“This is just the beginning. We also haven’t forgotten what happened in Mali,” said an unnamed Islamic State fighter. “The bitterness from Mali, the arrogance of the French, will not be forgotten at all.”
French President Francois Hollande told reporters Friday that he had been in touch with his Malian counterpart, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and pledged to provide “necessary support” to resolve the hostage situation in the former French colony.
“With the means we have in the area, we will do what is possible to obtain the freedom of the hostages,” Hollande said. “Once again, terrorists want to mark with their barbaric presence all places where they can kill or massacre.”
Rescue operations continued for much of the afternoon Friday as Malian forces sealed off the perimeter of the hotel and evacuated guests to a nearby gymnasium. Malian Gen. Didier Dacko told the New York Times that his forces were inside the hotel “looking for terrorists.”
French and U.S. military forces were also reportedly been dispatched to help free the remaining hostages.
“Small team of U.S. Special Operations Forces assisting with hostage rescue efforts,” The U.S. Africa Command Tweeted.
Among the hostages were U.S., French, Turkish, and Chinese nationals, according to reports. A spokesman for the U.N. mission in Mali said a U.N. delegation involved in ongoing peace talks was also staying at the hotel.
In a message posted online, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako said it was “aware of an ongoing active shooter operation at the Radisson Hotel.” The message encouraged U.S. citizens to contact their families and to “shelter in place.”
In Kuala Lumpur, where he was meeting with Malaysian leaders, U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters, “we’re monitoring the situation.”
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect breaking news.
Photo credit: Habibou Kouyate / AFP / Getty