Hostage crisis at Mali hotel over, 27 killed: UN sources
Several hours of hostage crisis at a hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako, has come to an end, with UN peacekeepers saying they have seen 27 dead bodies at the site.
“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 hotel.
Some 170 people, including nationals from France and Turkey, were initially held hostage by a gunmen.
The hotel chain company initially said in a statement that 140 guests and 30 employees had been taken hostage in the former French colony.
The bodies of 18 people were recovered as special forces stormed a hotel, a foreign security source told AFP.
“Eighteen bodies were found,” the source said on condition of anonymity, adding that French special forces from neighboring Burkina Faso were in the hotel and “participating in operations alongside Malians”.
Meanwhile, UN sources said the world body’s peacekeepers have seen some 27 bodies on two separate floors of the hotel.
A Belgian local government official is reportedly among those killed.
Geoffrey Dieudonne, an official with the parliament of Belgium’s French-speaking community, had been in Mali for a convention, a parliament spokesman told Belga news agency.
A security source said earlier that some 10 gunmen were believed to have been inside the hotel. A Malian military source said two gunmen were killed in the siege.
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short his trip to Chad where he was attending a regional meeting. Keita’s office said he will beck to Bamako “in the next hours.”
One of the freed hostages said he had heard attackers in the next room speaking English.
“I heard them say in English ‘Did you load it?’, ‘Let’s go’,” singer Sékouba ‘Bambino’ Diabate, said in Conakry. “I wasn’t able to see them because in these kinds of situations it’s hard.”
France and US involved in operations
Earlier, French President Francois Hollande said everything is being done to free the hostages.
“I just spoke on the phone with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from Mali and I assured him that France is available and ready to support Mali’s forces and needed help. The assault occurred and we will do what has to be done with our forces on the ground to free those hostages,” he said.
The French president added, “We need once again to be firm and show our solidarity towards our friend, the country of Mali. Especially that in this hotel in Bamako there are tourists, people in charge of businesses, of different nationalities, because the country (Mali) needs their support to rebuild and develop.”
French nationals were reported to be among those held in the siege, a source close to Hollande said.
“We are still awaiting more precise information that’s been checked out. French people are present. The president is following the situation closely,” the presidential source said.
Separately, a diplomatic source said that France was providing logistical and intelligence support.
French officials said that about 50 elite police troops were en route from Paris to Bamako to assist the Malian officials in controlling the situation.
France’s national gendarme said the forces are trained for emergency situations. France’s flagship airline Air France announced that it had cancelled its Paris-Bamako flight after the attack on the hotel. The 3852 flight was due later in Friday.
At least seven Turkish Airlines crew members were also reported to be at the hotel. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said five of them were rescued from the luxury hotel.
Davutoglu also told reporters authorities were in contact with the two other crew members, who work for the state carrier, Europe’s fourth-largest airline.
Meanwhile, an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman says 20 of the Indian nationals were held hostage in the hotel.
“Our ambassador (in Mali) has confirmed that 20 Indians are held hostage at the hotel but they are alive,” Vikas Swarup said Friday, adding that the ambassador is “continuously in touch” with the hostages and monitoring the situation.
The president of the United States has also said that he was closely monitoring the situation in Mali. Barack Obama, who is in Malaysia for an official visit, said he has asked officials in the White House to update him on the developments.
Army Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for the US Africa Command, said that US special forces were assisting in the incident in the capital city of Bamako.
About 25 American military personnel were in Bamako at the time of the attack, the an unnamed US official said, adding that there has not yet been a formal request for US military assistance.
Six US citizens are among the people who have been recovered from the Radisson hotel, according to a US military spokesman.
A footage has been released online by a Chinese tourist trapped inside the besieged hotel. The video shows security forces patrolling the streets outside shortly after gunmen stormed the building.
Group linked to al-Qaeda claims attack
A militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack and hostage-taking.
Al-Mourabitoun, a group based in northern Mali, posted a message on Twitter saying it was behind the attack on the Radisson Blu hotel, where hostages are still being held.
The claim could not immediately be verified.