Radison Blu hotel under attack by jihadists armed with AK-47s and hand grenades in Malian capital of Bamako
- Up to 10 gunmen have taken dozens of hostages inside the Radisson hotel while 80 people have escaped unharmed
- Gunmen spoke in English and tested hostages’ knowledge of the Koran before allowing Muslim hostages to leave
- Pentagon confirms that all 22 American nationals were rescued and unhurt following the hotel crisis
- US Special Forces led elite operation to clear the building one floor at a time amid deadly hostage crisis
- At least 27 people have been killed including a Belgian diplomat and a French national and the US embassy have urged American nationals to ‘shelter in place’ from attack
Armed jihadists have killed at least 27 people in a deadly shooting rampage after taking 170 hostages at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.
Automatic weapons fire was heard on the seventh floor of the 190-room hotel, where it was thought as many as 10 militants roamed through the building, looking for guests and members of staff. All the remaining hostages have since been freed.
Among the victims were Belgian diplomat Geoffrey Dieudonne and a French national, with the initial death toll likely to rise.
All 22 American nationals were rescued unharmed but 12 bodies have been found in the hotel’s basement and a further 15 victims were discovered on the second floor by rescuers.
Three of the gunmen have been killed while the remaining terrorists have taken up positions on the hotel’s roof as rescue forces, led by US Special Forces, try to finish off the gunmen. The al-Qaeda affiliated group Al-Mourabitoun, based in northern Mali, have claimed responsibility for the attack.
Scroll down for videos:
Several witnesses have claimed that the gunmen entered through the gates of the hotel in a car with a diplomatic number plate before opening fire with AK-47s and throwing grenades inside the building. The gunmen were also speaking to the hostages in English, according to one freed hostage.
‘I heard them say in English ‘Did you load it?’, ‘Let’s go,’ revealed Guinean singer Sekouba ‘Bambino’ Diabate, who was freed by Malian security forces.
‘I wasn’t able to see them because in these kinds of situations it’s hard. I woke up with the sounds of gunshots and for me, it was just small bandits who came in the hotel to claim something. After 20 or 30 minutes, I realized these are not just petty criminals,’ said Mr Diabate.
The hotel’s head of security, Seydou Dembele, said two private security guards had been shot in the legs in the early stages of the assault.
‘We saw two of the attackers. One was wearing a balaclava. The other was black-skinned. They forced the first barrier,’ Dembele told Reuters.
Within minutes of the assault, police and then soldiers had surrounded the hotel and were blocking roads leading into the neighbourhood.
Belgian diplomat Geoffrey Dieudonne was among two Malians and one French national who were confirmed dead following the siege.
Mr Dieudonne, an official with the parliament of Belgium’s French-speaking community, had been in Mali for a convention when he was killed in shocking terror attack.
‘Mr Dieudonne, with other foreign colleagues, was in Mali to give a seminar for Malian parliamentarians. At this stage the exact circumstances of his tragic death are not yet known,’ the Brussels-based parliament said.
At least 27 bodies were counted by one UN peacekeeper as Mali’s security minister confirmed the gunmen are holding no more hostages.
Two workers for Turkish Airlines and six Chinese nationals are thought to be among the missing hostages.
12 members of the Air France crew have been released from the hotel following a raid by Malian special forces while five other Turkish Airlines employees have managed to escape from the hotel, Turkish officials confirmed.
‘The whole of the Air France team is now in a safe place,’ an Air France statement said, indicating it was in ‘constant contact’ with its team of two pilots and 10 cabin crew members.
US Special Forces have reportedly been assisting with the rescue operation to clear the building of hostages and take out the armed jihadis.
The French intelligence service has also been providing invaluable logistical support for the operation and have confirmed they have dispatched a unit of special forces to Bamako.
‘Our special forces have freed hostages and 30 others were able to escape on their own. We have sealed all the exit points of the hotel, so be assured none of the hostage takers will be able to escape.’ Security Minister Salif Traore told AFP.
‘A group of Islamist gunmen involved in the storming of a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, continued to hold out against security forces on Friday even after the evacuation of all civilians from the building,’ a security ministry spokesman said.
‘The attackers no longer have hostages. They are dug in in the upper floors. They are alone with the Malian special forces who are trying to dislodge them,’ spokesman Amadou Sangho said.
The Rezidor Hotel Group, the company which owns the hotel, released a statement, ‘extending our deep sympathy to the families’.
‘I want to express my deep personal concern for all of the guests and employees affected by the terrible events which are happening today at the Radisson Blu Bamako Hotel in Mali,’ said company chief executive Wolfgang M Neumann.
‘I speak on behalf of the entire Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in extending our deep sympathy to the families, colleagues and friends of all those touched by today’s events.’
‘We have established dedicated phone lines to support the families of guests and employees, as well as a media enquiry line,’ it added.
The US embassy in Bamako urged embassy staff to seek cover from the attack, tweeting that all Americans in Mali should ‘shelter in place’.
Malian Special Forces have been seen outside the hotel and are assessing the situation while France’s national security service have confirmed that about 40 members of the French National Gendarmerie Intervention Group are en route to Bamako.
A spokesman for the service said they are heading from two different units of special police forces trained for emergency situations. British Special Forces are in Mali and also expected to head towards Bamako to help with the terror operation.
Michael Skapoullis, who escaped the besieged hotel today, told the BBC: ‘We live in a complex near the Radisson hotel. Every day I go to the [Radisson] gym from 6 to 8 in the morning.
‘Today, after seven-ish, it was extremely quiet, there were two people inside the gym. They left and I was a bit worried.
‘We had the music on all the time at the gym so I didn’t hear any gunshots. I left the gym and I tried to go in the lobby.
‘I opened the lobby door slowly, slowly, and I saw bullets on the ground. So I closed the door of the lobby and I went door to door, I went back in the gym, and from the gym I left the hotel.
‘Outside the hotel, there were police and military crew who escorted me and brought me to my house.’
The horrific terror attacks comes just a few days after ISIS gunmen massacred 129 people on the streets of Paris.
Suicide bombers targeted the Stade de France, cafes and restaurants as well as taking dozens of hostages at a death metal concert at the Bataclan theatre.
The co-ordinated attack was later claimed by ISIS, leading to a mass police hunt for one of the surviving gunmen and the ringleader of the deadly attack.
Fears remain that the attack in Bamako may be linked or inspired by the Paris attack, where French nationals were targeted for the government’s decision to carry out air strikes against ISIS.
French president Francois Hollande says France is ready to help Mali with all means necessary in the wake of the hotel attack in the capital, Bamako.
Hollande asks all French citizens in Mali to make contact with the French Embassy there ‘in order that everything is made to offer them protection.’
‘We should yet again stand firm and show our solidarity with a friendly country, Mali,’ Mr Hollande said in a short statement.
In Belgium, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said there were four Belgians registered at the attacked hotel but it’s unclear if they were taken hostage by the gunmen or not.
In response to the terror attack in Bamako, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has cut short its tip to Chad where he was attending a meeting of regional leaders.
The Mali presidency said on Twitter that Mr Keita will be back to Bamako ‘in the next hours’.
Mali, a former colony of France, has been battling several terror groups, predominantly located in the north of the country.
French special forces have been assisting the Malian army in their long standing counter-terrorism operation against militants from Ansar ad-Din, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Tuareg rebels.
The shooting in Mali follows a nearly 24-hour siege and hostage-taking at another hotel in August in the central Malian town of Sevare.
Four soldiers, five UN workers and four attackers were killed in the deadly attack, thought to have been carried out by Al-Qaeda linked militants.
Islamist groups have been waging 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.
MALI’S LONG BATTLE WITH TERRORISM AND REBELLION
In 2012, a major rebellion against Mali’s government heralded the rise of terrorism across the country.
It was led by the nomadic Tuareg rebels and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a military organisation partly made up of former Libyan soldiers.
The MNLA took control of the north and declared independence for the unrecognised state of Azawad.
But Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who helped MNLA defeat the government, turned on the indigenous Tuareg and seized the north with the goal of implementing sharia law in Mali.
The French army launched Opération Serval in January 2013 and recaptured most of the north a month later.
Islamists continued to operate in the north and began spreading into central and southern areas at the start of this year.
On 6 March, extremists shot dead five people, including two Europeans, in a restaurant in the country’s capital Bamako.
The dead bodies were strewn outside a popular nightclub in the city after the attack which took place overnight.
The Foreign Office has advised against all travel to northern parts of Mali, where Islamist groups are said to operate, and all but essential travel to southern areas including Bamako.
It warns there is a ‘high threat of terrorism and kidnap’ in areas north of Mopti but ‘the threat exists throughout the country’.
The FCO warning adds: ‘Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.’
It adds the situation in the country remains unstable and travellers should take several days worth of food and water ‘in case disturbances take place’.