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Bamako hotel gunmen 'no longer holding hostages'

© Habibou Kouyaté AFP | Malian security forces evacuate a man from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-11-20

A hostage situation at a hotel in Mali’s capital of Bamako has ended after security forces evacuated all civilians from the building; three assailants were killed, while several others still hold the upper floors, officials 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," security ministry spokesman Amadou Sangho said.

Police were seen moving in and out of the hotel, escorting civilians, some of them wounded, a witness said.

Al-Mourabitoun, a North African jihadi group headed by a former Qaeda fighter

“132 people have been exfiltrated and freed by Malian forces, which were helped by French special forces … It’s very uncertain about how many terrorists were involved since the operations are still ongoing,” said François Rihouay, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Bamako.

A UN official said UN peacekeepers on the scene had seen 27 bodies in a preliminary count, and that a search of the hotel was continuing.

Two Islamist militant groups, al Mourabitoun and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, according to Mauritania's Alakhbar news agency.

Militants stormed the Radisson Blu, a hotel popular with foreigners, at 7am, spraying the area with gunfire and shouting “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Greatest”, in Arabic. According to the AFP news agency, people from 14 different countries were temporarily trapped in the hotel, including guests from Algeria, Germany, Belgium, Canada, China, Ivory Coast, Spain, India, Morocco, Russia, Senegal, and Turkey. French airline Air France earlier said that 12 staff members staying at the hotel had “safely” been evacuated. Fifteen other French nationals have been freed from the building, according to Malian officials.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday evening that Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar was "likely behind" the deadly hotel attack, but acknowledged it was not certain.

Belmokhtar was reported dead in June by Libyan authorities, following a US air strike there. However, his militant group, al Mourabitoun, tweeted on June 19 that he was still alive. “He wanders and roams in the land of Allah, supporting his allies and vexing his enemies,” the tweet said.

Bursts of gunfire

Occasional bursts of gunfire were heard as the assailants went through the seven-storey building one room at a time, a senior security source who had witnessed the attack told Reuters.

Some people were freed by the attackers after showing they could recite verses from the Koran, while others were brought out by security forces or managed to escape on their own.

One of the rescued hostages, celebrated Guinean singer Sékouba ‘Bambino’ Diabate, said he had overheard two of the assailants speaking in English as they searched the room next to his.

“We heard shots coming from the reception area. I didn’t dare go out of my room because it felt like this wasn’t just simple pistols - these were shots from military weapons,” Diabate told Reuters by phone.

“The attackers went into the room next to mine. I stayed still, hidden under the bed, not making a noise,” he said. "I heard them say in English ‘Did you load it?’, ‘Let’s go’.”

The raid on the hotel, which lies just west of the city centre near government ministries and diplomatic offices, came a week after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris, raising fears that French nationals were being specifically targeted.

The French foreign ministry has put out two crisis lines for those seeking information on the hotel siege. In France: +33 (0)1 45 50 34 60. In Mali: + 223 44 97 58 20.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2015-11-20

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