BAMAKO, Mali — At least two gunmen stormed a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali, on Friday morning, and seized 140 guests and 30 staff members as hostages, killing at least three people.
An operation to rescue the remaining hostages was underway amid indications that the hostage takers had been releasing Muslims and continuing to hold non-Muslims.
Col. Maj. Salif Traoré, the minister of security and civil protection, said the military had evacuated around 30 people from the hotel and taken them to a gymnasium nearby. The identities of the three people killed were unknown, he said.
Gen. Didier Dacko of the Malian Army said the perimeter of the hotel had been sealed and that soldiers were “inside looking for the terrorists.”
Northern Mali fell under the control of Islamist militants in 2012. A French-led offensive ousted them in 2013, but remnants of the group have staged a number of attacks on United Nations peacekeepers and Malian forces.
Two members of the Malian security forces were wounded by shots fired from the seventh floor of the hotel and were taken away by ambulance, according to Amadou Sidibé, a reporter for the Malian newspaper Les Échos, who was near the scene Friday morning.
The streets near the hotel had been blocked off by security forces that included the United Nations peacekeeping force, the Malian Army and the French intelligence service.
The hotel is a popular place for foreigners to stay in Bamako, a city with a population approaching two million, and French and American citizens were among those taken hostage.
Those who could recite the declaration, the Shahada, were allowed to leave the hotel. The Shabab, a Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, used a similar approach in the attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013.
Some of those who left, which included people from Mali and foreigners, were not wearing any clothes as they were taken to a police station.
“We were just evacuated from the hotel by security forces, I know that there are a lot of people inside right now,” one hostage who made their way to safety told France24 television. “I saw bodies in the lobby. What is happening right now is really horrible.”
“I was hidden in my room barely a couple minutes, a couple seconds ago and someone shouted, telling us to get out, my door was smashed open, the security forces arrived,” he hostage added.
Another hostage of French nationality, who did not want to be named, told a friend in Bamako that a group of people was trapped on the roof of the hotel, along with the body of one person who had died in the attack. The hostage told the friend that the French consulate had told hostages by text message to stay put and wait for a military assault.
Kamissoko Lassine, the chief pastry chef of the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, said that two armed men arrived at the hotel between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.
“They were driving a vehicle with diplomatic plates,” he said. “You know how easy that is at the hotel? The guardians just lifted the barrier.”
Xinhua reported that a Chinese guest, whom it identified only as Mr. Chen, said that he heard several gunshots, and that smoke started to appear in the corridor outside his room. He tried to reach the front desk but no one answered, Mr. Chen told Xinhua through WeChat, a popular messaging service.
The Rezidor Hotel Group, the operator of the Radisson Blu Hotel Bamako, said it was in contact with the local authorities, and the United States Embassy said it was aware of the situation and issued a warning to staff members and American citizens to shelter in place.
A member of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, who asked not to be identified, said there were many French people in the hotel, including Air France staff, along with a delegation for the International Organization of French Speakers.
There was no formal claim of responsibility, but supporters of the Islamic State were posting on Twitter in celebration of the attacks under the hashtags #IslamicState, #ParisIsBurning and #Mali_Is_Burning.
In August, jihadists stormed a hotel in Sévaré, north of the capital, where United Nations staff members were staying, seizing hostages and killing at least five Malian soldiers and a United Nations contractor.
Source – NY Times