Terrorist assault on hotel leaves up to 27 dead as special forces storm building
Islamic extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed the Radisson hotel in Mali's capital yesterday, and security forces swarmed in to free guests floor by floor. As evening fell, officials said no more hostages were being held and that at least 27 people had been killed.
US and French special operations forces assisted Malian troops in the response to the attack by an as-yet unknown number of gunmen.
An extremist group led by former al Qaida commander Moktar Belmoktar (43) claimed responsibility for the siege.
A Malian military official initially said there were 10 gunmen, but by later in the day it was not clear how many assailants took part.
At least six Americans were evacuated from the hotel, although it was unclear how many were inside.
About 40 French special forces police played a support role, France's national gendarme service said.
Around 170 guests and employees were initially taken hostage, but some apparently escaped in the initial chaos or hid in the sprawling, cream-and-pink hotel that has 190 rooms and a spa, outdoor pool and ballroom.
"It was more like a real terrorist attack," said Oliver Salgado, a UN mission spokesman. "The intention was clearly to kill, not to necessarily have people being (taken) hostage."
At least one guest reported the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Koran before he was allowed to leave.
The guests included visitors from France, Belgium, Germany, China, India, Canada, the Ivory Coast and Turkey. But the attack was perceived by many in France, particularly in the government, as a new attack on French interests.
An extremist group that two years ago split from al Qaida's North Africa branch and led by Moktar Belmoktar (inset) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement carried by Al-Jazeera. The group said it wanted fighters freed from Mali's prisons and for attacks against northern Malians to stop.
The jihadist group, known as the Mourabitounes, was formed in 2013 after Belmoktar left al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and fused with a Malian militant group. The statement claimed the Mourabitounes had attacked in coordination with the "Sahara Emirate" affiliated with al-Qaida.
In January 2013, Belmoktar's group instigated a deadly assault on an Algerian gas facility, and several months later a double suicide bomb attack on a military barracks and a nearby uranium mine in Niger.
The French military operation in Mali in 2013 against Islamic extremists who were holding the northern half of the country was the first of several foreign interventions that president Francois Hollande has launched as president.
Those interventions have prompted increased threats against France and French interests from Islamic extremist groups from al Qaida's North African arm to the Islamic State (IS).
"We should yet again stand firm and show our solidarity with a friendly country, Mali," Mr Hollande said.
The gunmen had stormed the hotel shouting "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards. An employee said the militants had also used grenades.
Monique Kouame Affoue Ekonde, from Ivory Coast, said she and six other people, including a Turkish woman, were escorted out by security forces as the gunmen rushed toward the fifth or sixth floor.
Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said four Belgians had been registered at the hotel.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, citing its diplomats in Mali, reported about 10 Chinese citizens took shelter in their rooms, and all were reported safe.
Also reported safe were 12 members of an Air France flight crew and five from Turkish Airlines. All 20 guests from India were also safely evacuated.