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Mali in mourning after at least 27 killed
November 21, 2015, 8:06 am
Still image from video show a hostage rushed out from the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, November 20, 2015.

Mali on Saturday began three days of national mourning and declared a state of emergency after a nine-hour siege by an Al Qaida affiliate at a top hotel in the capital left at least 27 people dead.

The assault, claimed by the Al-Murabitoun group led by notorious one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, ended after Malian and international troops stormed the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako.

The attack came as fears are mounting about terrorist threats a week after devastating attacks in Paris that killed 130 people claimed by Daesh, which also said it had downed a Russian passenger jet in Egypt weeks before.

The Malian government declared a 10-day nationwide state of emergency from midnight on Friday over the assault and called three days of mourning for the victims, who included three Chinese, an American and a Belgian.

Malian security sources said 27 out of more than 100 people taken hostage in the raid had died, while at least three "terrorists" were killed or blew themselves up.

US President Barack Obama on Saturday condemned the "appalling" attack, adding that "this barbarity only stiffens our resolve to meet this challenge" of extremist violence.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed condolences for the victims and their families, adding: "China expresses indignation and strongly condemns this atrocity."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the "horrific terrorist attack," suggesting the violence was aimed at destroying peace efforts in the country.

Mali has been torn apart by unrest since the north fell under the control of Islamist groups linked to Al Qaida in 2012.

The Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation launched the following year, but large swathes of Mali remain lawless and prone to attacks.

Floor-by-floor rescue

Suspected Islamist gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Mali's capital Friday, firing automatic weapons and seizing more than 100 guests and staff in a hostage-taking that has left at least 27 people dead.

Special forces carried out a dramatic floor-by-floor rescue at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, according to local television and security sources, eventually ending the siege about nine hours after it had begun.

The assault added to fears about the global terror threat a week after the Paris massacre that left 130 people dead although it was not immediately clear if there was a link.

Malian television broadcast chaotic scenes from inside the hotel as police and other security personnel ushered bewildered and terrified guests along corridors and across the main lobby.

"They currently have no more hostages in their hands and forces are in the process of tracking them down," Security Minister Salif Traore told a news conference.

Malian security sources said at least 22 hostages had been killed, adding that French special forces were "participating in operations alongside Malians".

Two of the gunmen had been killed, according to a Malian military source.

"The hostage-taking is over. We are in the process of securing the hotel," the source said on condition of anonymity, as civil protection officers removed the victims in orange body bags.

Two US special forces troops who happened to be at the nearby US embassy for meetings assisted in the rescue of six Americans.

The palatial 190-room Radisson, regarded as one of west Africa's best hotels, attracts entrepreneurs, tourists and government officials from across the world with its luxury spa, outdoor pool and conference suites.

Foreign guests described seeing a light-skinned man lying dead on the floor as they escaped early on.

Witnesses described around a dozen armed assailants, while security sources spoke of two or three "jihadist" attackers.

A paramedic said three security guards had been wounded while an AFP correspondent saw a police officer, who had been shot, being evacuated by security forces.

An AFP photographer saw a white man appear several times at a window on the second second floor, apparently waving in desperation for help.

Smell of smoke

A Chinese tourist quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency said the "smell of smoke spread through the corridors and rooms, the Internet was cut and the hotel reception was unresponsive to phone calls".

The men are believed to have entered the hotel around 0700 GMT at the same time as a car with diplomatic plates, with many guests still in their rooms.

A Belgian regional assembly official, in Mali for a convention, was among those killed, the parliament said.

India said 20 of its nationals were among the hostages while Xinhua said at least seven Chinese were involved.

Twelve Air France employees were in a "safe place", the company announced, while seven Turkish Airlines crew members were freed.

Seven Algerians and two Germans were also freed while the status of four Belgian guests remains unclear.

Malian soldiers, police and special forces were at the scene as a security perimeter was set up, along with members of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali and the French troops fighting jihadists in west Africa under Operation Barkhane.

Mali hotel gunmen 'holding no more hostages': security minister

Gunmen who stormed a luxury hotel in Mali's capital Friday and seized more than 100 guests and staff no longer have any hostages after a rescue operation by special forces, the government said. "They currently have no more hostages in their hands and forces are in the process of tracking them down," security minister Salif Traore told a news conference following a stand-off of several hours at Bamako's Radisson Blu.


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