Bamako: Gunmen who stormed a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital and seized more than 100 guests and staff today no longer have any hostages after a rescue operation by special forces, the Mali government has said.
“They currently have no more hostages in their hands and forces are in the process of tracking them down,” security minister Salif Traore told a news conference following a stand-off of several hours at Bamako’s Radisson Blu.
United Nations peacekeepers saw some 27 bodies on two separate floors of a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako that was attacked on Friday, a UN official told Reuters, citing preliminary information.
The peacekeepers saw 12 corpses in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor, the official said on condition of anonymity. He added that the UN troops were still helping Malian authorities search the hotel.
Earlier, all 20 Indians who were staying at the hotel were evacuated, the External Affairs Ministry said. The Indians who were rescued, work for an Indian business group based in Dubai and have a permanent room in the hotel.
The gunmen are believed to have entered the 190-room hotel around 0700 GMT in a car with diplomatic plates before seizing 170 guests and staff in a suspected Islamist hostage-taking.
Witnesses described “around a dozen” armed assailants, while security sources spoke of two or three “jihadist” attackers.
An African Jihadist group affiliated with al Qaeda has claimed responsibility. Al-Mourabitoun, a group based in northern Mali and made up mostly of Tuaregs and Arabs, posted a message on Twitter saying it was behind the attack on the Radisson Blu hotel. The claim could not immediately be verified.
Malian soldiers, police and special forces were on the scene as a security perimeter was set up, along with members of the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali and the French troops fighting jihadists in west Africa under Operation Barkhane.
Attacks despite peace deal
The shooting at the Radisson follows a nearly 24-hour siege and hostage-taking at another hotel in August in the central Malian 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 attack at a restaurant in Bamako in March in the first such incident in the capital.
Islamist groups have continued to wage attacks in Mali despite a June peace deal between former Tuareg rebels in the north of the country and rival pro-government armed groups.
Northern Mali fell in March-April 2012 to Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups long concentrated in the area before being ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
Despite the peace deal, large swathes of Mali remain beyond the control of government and foreign forces.
The website of the Radisson Blu in Bamako says it offers “upscale lodging close to many government offices and business sites”, serving as “one of the city’s most popular conference venues” with “a stunning 508-square-metre ballroom and meeting rooms”.
Radisson Blu, an upscale brand of the Radisson hotel chain, has more than 230 luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.