Mali in mourning after at least 27 die in hotel siege

NOVEMBER 21, 2015

A 10-day state of emergency has been declared in Mali after at least 21 people were killed by terrorists in a Bamako hotel, UN peacekeepers in the West African country said.

Malian security sources told AFP that at least 27 people died. The government announced there were no more hostages in terrorist hands after Malian troops ended the siege. Two of the attackers were overpowered, UN spokesperson Olivier Salgado said.

Salgado said security forces were still searching hotel rooms to see if there were more attackers, adding there might be more victims. "We cannot exclude bad surprises," he said.

Mali national television said the death toll included two of the undetermined number of terrorists.

Three day mourning period

A three-day mourning period will commence on Monday.

The Rezidor Hotel Group, which operates the Radisson Blu hotel, initially said the attackers had taken 140 guests and 30 employees hostage. The attackers shot and killed three security guards upon entering the hotel, the government said.

Traore told Radio France Internationale that two police officers were injured when special forces stormed the building.

The minister said the hostages included 45 Malians, 15 US citizens and nationals of Ivory Coast, Turkey, Algeria, Russia, Spain, Canada, Germany, Togo and China.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported that 10 Chinese citizens were taken hostage. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup wrote on Twitter that 20 Indians were staying in the hotel.

Hotel workers escape through emergency exits

The US State Department confirmed at least one American died in the attacks. A police source said some hostages were released after they proved they were Muslims by reciting verses from the Qur’an. Some hotel employees reportedly escaped through emergency exits.

"Around 06:30 in the morning, I heard multiple gunshots outside my room, and there was smoke in the hotel corridor and my room. The internet connection was unstable and phone calls to the reception went unanswered," one hotel guest told China's official Xinhua news agency.

US military happened to be on scene

A small team of US Special Operations Forces was helping with the hostage rescue efforts, US Africa Command said on Twitter.

Some US military personnel "happened to be at the site at the time and chipped in to assist first responders in moving people to secure locations," a US State Department spokesperson said.

The White House said the United States "condemns in the strongest terms" the attack and praised international security forces for having "prevented even worse loss of life".

The US will "remain a steadfast partner" with Mali against terrorist groups seeking to undermine the country's "efforts to build a durable peace".

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian posted on Twitter: "Upon request from the Malian authorities, I have decided to send a detachment of special French forces to Bamako."

French President Francois Hollande said he had assured Malian President Ibrahim Keita that France "is available to offer the necessary support to the forces of his country."

The groups claiming responsibility for the attack were al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Mourabitoun, according to the al-Akhbar news site in Mauritania, which has previously received statements from extremist groups in the region.

Hotel popular among Westerners

Al-Mourabitoun is the organisation of Mokhtar Belmokhtar. It remains unclear if the one-eyed Algerian, a target of Western airstrikes, is still alive.

A group of men had driven to the hotel in a car with diplomatic plates, while others came on foot, hotel security sources and Mali's national television said.

The attackers entered the building and went up to a higher floor, hotel security sources said. They forced a door open and shots were heard.

Radisson Blu is popular among Westerners, including Air France staff.

Islamist violence usually affects Mali's north, which has been volatile since separatist rebels and later al-Qaeda-affiliated militants took control of the region after a 2012 military coup.

French and African military operations dispersed the militants and restored government control over the area. Clashes between rebels and the army persist in some places.

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