Published: Saturday 21st November 2015 by The News Editor
World powers have expressed horror at the latest terrorist outrage after heavily-armed Islamic extremists seized dozens of hostages at a hotel in Mali’s capital.
Malian troops, backed by US and French special forces, swarmed in to retake the Radisson building in Bamako and free many of the terrified captives, but at least 20 people, including an American and three Chinese railway executives, were killed along with two gunmen during the siege, which lasted more than seven hours.
The United Nations condemned Friday’s “horrifying terrorist attack” and expressed support for Malian authorities in their fight against terror groups. The council later issued a statement calling on the authorities to swiftly investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The UN’s most powerful body also “strongly condemned any action that may undermine the peace process in Mali” and reaffirmed the need to combat threats to international peace and security “caused by terrorist acts”.
An extremist group led by former al Qaida commander Moktar Belmoktar said it carried out the attack in the former French colony and many in France saw it as a new assault on their country’s interests a week after the Paris atrocity which killed 130 people.
In a recorded statement carried by Al-Jazeera, the group, known as the Mourabitounes, said it wanted fighters freed from Mali’s prisons and a halt on attacks against northern Malians.
French president Francois Hollande did not link the violence at the Radisson Blu hotel with last week’s bloodshed in Paris, but declared that France would stand by the West African country.
“Once again terrorists want to make their barbaric presence felt everywhere, where they can kill, where they can massacre. So we should once again show our solidarity with our ally Mali,” he said.
US president Barack Obama called the attack a reminder of the “scourge of terrorism” and said its barbaric nature only “stiffens our resolve to meet this challenge”.
Gunfire continued throughout the day at the hotel, which is popular with airline crews and other foreigners doing business in Bamako, but the shooting had stopped after dark.
Officials would not confirm that the entire complex had been secured by nightfall, although the only activity was firefighters carrying bodies to waiting ambulances.
The government has announced a 10-day state of emergency as well as a three-day period of national mourning beginning on Monday.
Army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 20 people had been killed, including an official with Mali’s gendarmerie. Five people were injured, including two police officers.
The US State Department said one American was among the dead. Her family identified her as Anita Datar of Takoma Park, Maryland. Ms Datar’s LinkedIn profile said she worked for international agency Palladium International Development.
“We are devastated that Anita is gone,” the family said in a statement. “It’s unbelievable to us that she has been killed in this senseless act of violence and terrorism.”
China Railway Construction, a state-owned company, said three of its senior executives had been killed in the attack. They were Zhou Tianxiang, general manager for the corporation’s international group, Wang Xuanshang, a deputy general manager of the international group and Chang Xuehui, general manager of the group’s West Africa division.
Cmdr Traore said originally that as many as 10 attackers were involved, but later said there may have in fact been only two gunmen, both of whom were killed.
A police officer at the hotel displayed photos of the two dead gunmen, their bodies riddled with bullets.
The siege began when assailants shouting “God is great!” in Arabic burst into the complex and opened fire on the hotel guards. An employee, Tamba Diarra, said by phone amid the attack that the militants used grenades.
About 170 guests and employees were initially taken hostage, but some apparently escaped or hid in the sprawling, cream-and-pink hotel that has 190 rooms and a spa, outdoor pool and ballroom. They included visitors from France, Belgium, Germany, China, India, Canada, Ivory Coast and Turkey.
“It was more like a real terrorist attack,” said Mali’s UN mission spokesman Olivier Salgado. “The intention was clearly to kill, not to necessarily have people being hostage.”
Cmdr Traore said 126 people had been escorted to safety, and that at least one guest said the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Koran as proof of his Muslim faith before he was allowed to leave.
As people ran for their lives along a dirt road, troops pointed the way to safety, sometimes escorting them with a protective arm around the shoulder. Local TV showed heavily-armed troops in what appeared to be a lobby.
Monique Kouame Affoue Ekonde of 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. she said she had been “in a state of shock”.
Malian special forces went “floor by floor” to free hostages and US special forces assisted, said Colonel Mark Cheadle of the US Army’s Africa Command. At least six Americans were evacuated from the hotel and US officials were trying to verify the location of all American citizens in Mali.
US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price praised the bravery of the Malian, French, UN and US security personnel who responded, adding that Washington was prepared to assist Mali’s government as it investigated “this tragic terrorist attack”.
A unit of French soldiers has been sent to Bamako in support of Malian security forces and about 40 special police forces also played a supporting role, France’s national gendarme service said.
Published: Saturday 21st November 2015 by The News Editor