The Radisson Hotel in Mali’s capital is exactly the kind of establishment that should make a visitor nervous.
On the surface, there is nothing to distinguish its clean and functional interior from any other international hotel, but if you happen to be interested in killing Westerners, then the Radisson is one of only a handful of places in Bamako where you can be sure that your targets will always be present.
Aid workers, diplomats and United Nations officials – not to mention Air France flight crews – all stay there. When I was briefly a guest in 2013, the hotel was considered safe enough for the UN to hold meetings and events in its conference rooms.
The Radisson exists in a country where al-Qaeda and its allies actually controlled two thirds of the national territory, Al-Qaeda and those inspired by its ideology have a long history of attacking international hotels across the world, from the Serena in Kabul to the Marriott in Islamabad and the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. The attraction is always the same: these are the places where you can be sure of finding Westerners.
At least 27 people are feared dead after Islamist extremists with guns and grenades stormed a luxury hotel in Mali. UN peacekeepers say they saw at least 27 bodies in the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako. Around 10 men armed with guns and grenades entered the hotel at around 7am local time. They were shouting and screaming “Allahu Akbar”, which means “God Is great” in Arabic.
More than 150 people were originally taken hostage by the attackers. The Malian forces moved “floor by floor” rescuing people, assisted by elite US and French troops, it is claimed. Among the dead are thought to be a Belgian local government official, according to a source.
Geoffrey Dieudonne had been in Mali for a convention, a parliament spokesman told Belga news agency. Two security guards have been injured in the assault. At least two gunmen are among the dead, a Malian military source said.
One of the freed hostages, a singer from Guinea, said he heard attackers in the next room speaking English.
“I heard them say in English ‘Did you load it?’, ‘Let’s go’,” Sékouba ‘Bambino’ Diabate told Reuters. Al Mourabitoun, an African Jihadist group affiliated with al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Radisson Blu’s head of security said the attackers arrived in a large vehicle and forced their way through a security barrier. A security source said 20 hostages were released by the gunmen after being made to recite verses from the Koran.
Two women told an AFP journalist they had seen the body of a fair-skinned man lying on the floor of the hotel. Turkish Airlines said seven of its staff were among the hostages, but five including two pilots had managed to escape.
Air France said it had 12 crew in the hotel but all were safely “extracted”. As a precaution it has cancelled Friday’s flights to and from Bamako.
The hostages also include 20 Indians, seven Algerians, six Americans and two Germans who have all been rescued along with three of 10 Chinese nationals.
The owners of the hotel, which attracts many foreign visitors, originally said 140 guests and 30 employees had been “locked in” by two raiders. The Rezidor Hotel Group have since revised the figure to 13 employees, making the total number of hostages 153.
The US and French embassies have asked their citizens in Bamako to take shelter, and Mali’s President has cut short a visit to Chad where he was attending a regional summit.
President Francois Hollande has said France will “yet again stand firm and show our solidarity” with its former colony. It is to send extra troops to boost the 1,000 who remain there. The attack comes a week after the Paris massacre in which 130 people were killed.
An African jihadist al Qaeda- affiliated group – al Mourabitoun – have claimed responsibility for the attack.