BAMAKO: Suspected Islamist gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital Friday, firing automatic weapons and seizing more than 100 guests and staff in a hostage-taking that left at least 27 people dead. Mali state television says the government has declared a 10-day state of emergency beginning at midnight.
Special forces staged a dramatic floor-by-floor rescue at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, according to local television and security sources, to end the nine-hour siege. The jihadist group Al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility..
“We the Murabitoun, with the participation of our brothers from Al-Qaeda in the Islam Maghreb, claim the hostage-taking operation at the Radisson hotel,” said a man’s voice in an audio recording broadcast by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television.
The assault added to fears over the global jihadist threat a week after the Paris massacre that left 130 people dead.
Malian television broadcast chaotic scenes from inside the hotel as police and other security personnel ushered bewildered guests along corridors and across the main lobby.
Malian security sources said at least 27 hostages had been killed, adding that French special forces had been “participating in operations alongside Malians”.
“The hostage-taking is over. We are in the process of securing the hotel,” a Malian military source said, as civil protection officers removed the victims in orange body bags.
Two US special forces troops who happened to be at the nearby US embassy for meetings assisted in the rescue of six Americans.
France’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said several countries had long been searching for Belmokhtar, head of the Al-Murabitoun group. The one-eyed jihadist is also accused of planning a hostage-taking at a gas plant in Algeria in 2013, in which dozens of mostly foreign workers were killed.
“He is likely behind this attack although we are not completely certain of it,” Le Drian told France’s TF1 television channel.
The palatial 190-room Radisson, regarded as one of west Africa’s best hotels, attracts entrepreneurs, tourists and government officials from across the world with its luxury spa, outdoor pool and conference suites.
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.