Details are still emerging, but 130 are said to have survived a deadly assault on a West African hotel this morning.
Image via Twiiter user @Malikahere
Yet another Friday racked with terrorist violence, this time in the West African country Mali. Earlier today the jihadist group Al-Mourabitoun stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, taking 170 people hostage, many of them foreign guests, according to the BBC. Malian, French, and U.S. forces then undertook a joint rescue operation, during which they found 27 dead.
Mali’s minister of internal security, Colonel Salif Traoré, said Al-Mourabitoun drove through a security barrier at 7 a.m. GMT, firing AK-47s and yelling “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic). Reuters, quoting a senior security source, reported that the gunmen went from room to room taking hostages, freeing only those who could recite verses from the Koran.
While Agence-France Presse reported that all hostages were out of the building around 11:30 p.m. GMT, the gunmen reportedly retreated to the upper floors to carry on the terrorist action. It took approximately another five hours for Malian, French, and U.S. forces to put an end to the situation, which White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price just announced on the White House website.
“We can confirm that the attack has ended, and we continue to coordinate with U.S officials on the ground to verify the location of all American citizens in Mali,” Price said. “We extend our deep condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have been killed in this heinous attack. Our thoughts and prayers also are with those who have been injured. We commend the bravery of the Malian, French, United Nations, and U.S. security personnel who responded to the situation and prevented even worse loss of life.”
Disturbingly, freed hostage and Guinean singer Sekouba “Bambino” Diabate told the Mirror he heard the attackers speaking English.
“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 attack isn’t an isolated event; Mali has been battling Islamic extremist violence since at least 2012, when Malians returned from Libya after fighting for Muammar Gaddafi. This coincided with efforts of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to overthrow the Malian government, which was itself hijacked by militant Islamic groups like Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine, who began imposing Sharia law on Malians as the group moved toward the center of the country. France responded with military operations, which were then bolstered by a U.N. Security Council resolution that lent international support to stabilize the Malian government.
As the BBC reported in August 2013, Al-Mourabitoun, the group behind today’s hostage situation, grew out of two militant Islamic groups: Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and the Masked Men Brigade, which was linked to Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The two groups joined forces after France launched its Malian military operation. Al-Mourabitoun leader and Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar announced in an audio message on May 14, 2015, that the group had pledged allegiance to ISIS.
France’s defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking in an interview on French TV, said that Belmokhtar was “likely” behind the Bamako attacks. But there is no evidence yet that Al-Mourabitoun’s actions are connected to ISIS’s Paris attacks, despite the former’s pledge of allegiance to the latter.