Islamist extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital on Friday, leaving at least 27 people dead, while dozens , including 20 Indians were rescued by special forces
Nine hours after the siege of the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital town Bamako by extremists, the hostage crisis after two gunmen were killed by security forces and the rest holed up in the top floors.
“The attackers no longer have hostages. They are dug in in the upper floors. They are alone with the Malian special forces who are trying to dislodge them,” security ministry spokesperson Amadou Sangho said.
A UN official told Reuters on condition on anonymity that peacekeepers counted at least 27 corpses, 12 corpses in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor.
But it was a lucky escape for 20 Indians when the gunmen stormed the hotel in the West African nation and took 170 hostages. The ministry of external affairs confirmed that the Indians – all cousins belonging to one Bulani family from Ajmer in Rajasthan -- had been evacuated.
“We all are safe now. We stay in the third floor of the hotel in the B block,” Mukesh, one of the Indians brought to safety, told Hindustan Times over phone. He said he heard “rampant gunshots and guests in the hotel who were under attack crying aloud”.
Good news! All 20 Indians in the hotel in Bamako have been safely evacuated. Our Ambassador in Mali has confirmed. #MaliAttack— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) November 20, 2015
Jihadist group claims attack
Al-Mourabitoun, a jihadist group based in northern Mali with links with al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack. The claim could not immediately be verified.
Witnesses said the gunmen entered the 190-room hotel compound at around 0700 GMT (12.30 IST) in a car with diplomatic plates, shouted “Allahu Akbar”, and started firing at guests and staff.
Malian commandos, backed by special forces from America and France, reacted quickly and staged a dramatic floor-by-floor rescue at the hotel, even as the extremists tried to hold some of the guests hostage.
State television broadcast chaotic scenes from inside the hotel as police and other security personnel ushered bewildered guests along corridors and across the main lobby.
Witnesses talked of around a dozen armed assailants, but the Malian military source reported the deaths of three “terrorists who were shot or blew themselves up”, adding that the total number of gunmen was not more than four.
Watch | Gunmen storm hotel, take 170 hostages in Mali
Support from US, French special forces
Two US special forces troops who were posted in the nearby US embassy assisted in the rescue of six Americans from the hotel. About 40 French special police forces who were in the country played a support role
France said the attack was likely masterminded by notorious Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, added to fears over the global jihadist threat a week after the Paris massacre that left 130 people dead.
The attack follows a hotel siege in August in the central Mali town of Sevare in which five UN workers were killed along with four soldiers and four attackers.
Five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian, were also killed in an assault on a Bamako restaurant in March, the first such incident in the capital targeting Westerners.
The north fell under the control of Tuareg rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in mid-2012.
The Islamists sidelined the Tuareg to take sole control but were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013. Large swathes of Mali remain lawless despite a June peace deal between the former Tuareg rebels and rival pro-government armed groups.
Northern Mali remains insecure and militant attacks have extended farther south this year, including the capital. In March masked gunmen shot up a restaurant in Bamako that is popular with foreigners, killing five people.
About 1,000 French troops remain in the country. The Netherlands also has troops working with the UN mission in Mali. According to the Dutch defence ministry, some 450 Dutch military personnel are taking part in the mission along with four Apache and three Chinook helicopters. Most of the Dutch force is based in Gao, but there are a few officers at the UN mission headquarters in Bamako.