Twenty Indians, all cousins, were rescued unscathed from a luxury hotel in the capital of West African country of Mali, where gunmen tried to take 170 people hostages on Friday, a week after the chilling terrorist rampage in Paris.
For the Bulani family, hailing from Ajmer in Rajasthan, it was few hours of uncertainty and anxiety as they heard constant gunshots at Raddison Blu hotel in Bamako, capital of Mali which has claimed at least three lives. But there were conflicting reports on the death toll.
“We all are safe now. We stay in the third floor of the hotel in the B block. We are staying in apartments that are part of the hotel”, Mukesh one of the Indians brought to safety after a long operation by the Malian security forces and US military team told HT over phone.
He said he could hear “rampant gunshots and guests in the hotel who were under attack crying aloud.” He said the attack began around 6 45 am as four gunmen arriving in a car with diplomatic number plate started spraying bullets in the air before entering the lobby of the hotel.
“It all got over around 4 25 pm local time”, he added.
Northern Mali was occupied by Islamist fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, for most of 2012 and they were flushed out by a France-led military operation. That didn’t stop occasional violence in Mali’s central belt on the southern reaches of the Sahara, and in Bamako, where over 500 Indians stay. The city has a population of 2 million people.
“All Indians in the hotel in Bamako have been evacuated”, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swrup said.
Dev Bulani and his cousins including Mukhesh are the distributors of LG and TVS Motors in the country. Dev has been staying in Mali for the past 15 years. “They all stay on the third floor of the hotel on B block, and the attack happened on the A block”, Kapil Bulani, brother of Dev, told this newspaper over phone from Dubai. He said the he came to know about the attack 6 50 am local time Mali, which got over by mid-day. India is 5 and half hours ahead of Mali.
“They kept their cool, and were brought to safety. There have been no women or children in the group”, he said, adding those were the hours of anxiety. The hotel is popular with foreigners and guests included nationals of France, Turkey and Algeria. The victims included two Malian nations and a French citizen, though the authorities have not yet indentified the group behind the attacks.
It is evident that the group was looking taking a large number of people hostage from the 190-room hotel. The assailants went through the seven-storey building, room-by-room and floor-by-floor, Reuters reported quoting a senior security source and a witness.