Mali armed Islamic extremists attack reveals ‘scourge of terrorism’

November 21, 2015 7:24 am

 

Soldiers
leave the Radisson Blu hotel after assisting Mali soldiers during an
attack by gunmen on the hotel in Bamako, Mali. Photo / AP

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, including one American, 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.

A body is removed from the Radisson Blu hotel. Photo / AP
A body is removed from the Radisson Blu hotel. Photo / AP
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, 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.
President
Barack Obama called the attack a reminder of the “scourge of
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 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.
Malian state television said late Friday
night that the government had announced a 10-day state of emergency
beginning at midnight as well as a three-day period of national mourning
beginning Monday.
Army Cmdr. Modibo Nama Traore said late Friday 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.
The U.S. State Department said one American was among the dead.
Her family identified her as Anita Datar of Takoma Park, Md.

Mali troops try to control a crowd of onlookers near the Radisson Blu hotel. Photo / AP
Mali troops try to control a crowd of onlookers near the Radisson Blu hotel. Photo / AP
Datar’s LinkedIn profile said she worked for international development 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 Corp., a state-owned company, said early Saturday
that three of its senior executives had been killed in the attack.
They
were identified as 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 division.

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.”

Mali trooper assist a hostage escaping from the Radisson Blu hotel. Photo / AP
Mali trooper assist a hostage escaping from the Radisson Blu hotel. Photo / AP
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 Quran 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 Defense 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 coordination 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 websites and all-
TV networks immediately switched from nearly nonstop coverage of the
Paris attacks investigation and aftermath to the Bamako siege.
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.

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