Islamic militants attack hotel in Mali’s capital, killing at least 20 people

Heavily armed Islamic extremists seized dozens of hostages Friday at a Radisson hotel, but Malian troops, backed by U.S. and French special forces, swarmed in to retake the building and free many of the terrified captives. At least 20 people were killed along with two gunmen during the more than seven-hour siege, a Malian military commander said.

BAMAKO, Mali — Heavily armed Islamic extremists seized dozens of hostages Friday at a Radisson hotel, but Malian troops, backed by U.S. and French special forces, swarmed in to retake the building and free many of the terrified captives. At least 20 people were killed along with two gunmen during the more than seven-hour siege, a Malian military commander said.

An extremist group led by former al-Qaida commander Moktar Belmoktar claimed responsibility for 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 attacks.

While French President Francois Hollande did not link the violence at the Radisson Blu hotel with last week’s bloodshed in Paris, he 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.

Gunfire continued throughout the day at the hotel, which is popular with airline crews and other foreigners doing business in the capital of 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.

Army Cmdr. Modibo Nama Traore said late Friday night that 20 people had been killed, including an official with Mali’s gendarmerie. In addition, he said five people were injured including two police officers.

Though Traore had earlier said as many as 10 attackers were involved, he said Friday night that there may have 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, Traore said earlier on Friday. An employee who identified himself as 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 U.N. Mission spokesman Olivier Salgado. “The intention was clearly to kill, not to necessarily have people being hostage.”

Traore said 126 people had been escorted to safety, and that at least one guest reported the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Qur’an as proof of his Muslim faith before he was allowed to leave.

As people ran for their lives along a dirt road, troops in full combat gear 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. Ekonde said she had been “in a state of shock.”

Malian special forces went “floor by floor” to free hostages, Traore said.

U.S. special forces assisted, said Col. Mark Cheadle of the U.S. Army’s Africa Command. At least six Americans were evacuated from the hotel, Cheadle said. U.S. officials were trying to verify the location of all American citizens in Mali.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price praised the bravery of the Malian, French, U.N. and U.S. security personnel who responded, adding that Washington was prepared to assist Mali’s government as it investigates “this tragic terrorist attack.”

A unit of French soldiers was sent to Bamako in support of Malian security forces, the French Defence Ministry said. About 40 special police forces also played a supporting role, France’s national gendarme service said.

The U.N. mission sent security reinforcements and medical aid to the scene, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. A few U.N. staff were in the hotel but they got out safely, he added.

Reflecting the chaos surrounding the siege, various death tolls were reported during the day. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 19 people died — 18 in the hotel and one Malian soldier killed in the fighting.

A U.N. official had earlier said initial reports put the number of dead at 27, but that different casualty figures have been reported and the organization is working with authorities to get an exact total. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the operation was still ongoing.

Throughout the siege, officials in various countries from Europe to Asia sought to find out whether their citizens staying at the hotel were safe.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, citing its diplomats in Mali, reported about 10 Chinese citizens took shelter in their rooms, and all were safe.

Also reported safe were 12 members of an Air France flight crew and five from Turkish Airlines. All 20 guests from India were evacuated as well, said Vikas Swarup, spokesman for India’s Foreign Ministry.

The attack was perceived by many in France, particularly in the government, as a new attack on its interests.

An extremist group that two years ago split from al-Qaida’s North Africa branch and led by Moktar Belmoktar claimed responsibility in a recorded statement carried by Al-Jazeera. The group said it wanted fighters freed from Mali’s prisons and a halt on attacks against northern Malians.

The group, known as the Mourabitounes, was formed in 2013 after Belmoktar left al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and joined with a Malian militant group. The statement said the Mourabitounes had attacked in co-ordination with the “Sahara Emirate” affiliated with al-Qaida.

The French military operation in Mali in 2013 against Islamic extremists who were holding the northern half of the country was the first of several foreign interventions that Hollande launched as president. Those interventions have prompted increased threats against France and its interests from extremist groups ranging from al-Qaida’s North African arm to the Islamic State group.

French news websites and all-news TV networks immediately switched from nearly nonstop coverage of the Paris attacks investigation and aftermath to the Bamako siege.

Jens David Ohlin, an international law expert at Cornell University, said France has “invested so much military energy in pushing the Islamic rebels out of Mali.”

“While Mali might not have the same emotional significance to the French as Paris does, it is certainly an important part of the French military strategy,” he added.

Northern Mali remains insecure and militant attacks have extended farther south this year, including Bamako. In March, masked gunmen shot up a Bamako restaurant popular with foreigners, killing five people.

France has 3,500 troops operating in Mali and four other countries in the Sahel region as part of a five-nation counterterrorism operation.

The Netherlands also has troops working with the U.N. mission. According to the Dutch Defence Ministry, about 450 of its personnel are involved in the mission. Most of the Dutch force is based in Gao, but there are a few officers at the U.N. mission headquarters in Bamako.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Cowboy Kicks, originally scheduled for May 5, will now take place Sept. 18. (Contributed photo)
Westerner Park’s Cowboy Kicks fundraiser moved to Sept. 18

A major fundraiser for Westerner Park and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Ediburgh, left, look on as Manitoba Beaver peaks out of his box at a July 14, 1970 ceremony in which Hudson's Bay Company observed an old tradition. The death of Prince Philip has reminded a small French village in Manitoban about how a royal visit half a century ago made the community the centre of frog racing in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Prince Philip’s frog-jumping legacy in a Manitoba French community

WINNIPEG — The death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has reminded… Continue reading

The Yukon provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. Yukon residents will head to the polls on Monday for Canada's fourth election held during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Yukon residents set to vote in fourth election held in Canada during pandemic

WHITEHORSE — Yukon residents will head to the polls on Monday for… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals set to debate universal basic income, pharmacare, OAS hike

OTTAWA — Grassroots Liberals have taken up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call… Continue reading

Most Read