Mali troops storm hotel as jihadists kill 21
Some people were let leave if they could recite the Koran
France appeared to have been the primary target of another terrorist attack yesterday when gunmen stormed a hotel filled with Western visitors in Mali's capital, killing at least 21 people.
The assault on the Radisson Blu in Bamako began at 7am when 170 guests were present. French commandos were deployed to help local security forces clear the hotel, floor by floor, in a siege that lasted 12 hours.
Two branches of al-Qa'ida claimed responsibility and the evidence suggested that France was the principal target. On November 1, Iyad Ag Ghaly, an al-Qa'ida leader in Mali, threatened to kill "French crusaders".
France, the former colonial power, sent 4,000 troops to Mali in 2013 to liberate three northern regions from al-Qa'ida's control. France still has 1,450 troops in the country and its citizens make up the largest single group of Western expatriates in Bamako.
The attackers arrived at the Radisson in a car with diplomatic licence plates. A witness, who gave his name as Salim, said that three gunmen produced their weapons and killed two hotel security guards, causing the rest to flee. "I saw that there was a chaos situation there. Some people had arrived in a diplomatic car," said Salim. "When they arrived, the security that was at the hotel fled away and those people got the time to get in the hotel with their weapons."
Salim was on his way to do some building work at the hotel when the attack began. After seeing the terrorists force their way in, he fled to his home a few hundred yards away. He described how security forces quickly surrounded the hotel, including soldiers from the French army and paramilitary officers from Mali's gendarmerie.
The French government confirmed that a special forces unit was sent to Mali from a base in Burkina Faso.
Inside the hotel, the gunmen moved from floor to floor as guests fled in panic. Some people were allowed to leave safely if they could prove they were Muslims by reciting the invocation of faith. Others were shot down in the lobby, in corridors or in their rooms.
Rather than risk a massacre, Malian forces and their French allies appear to have taken a swift decision to enter the hotel. As this happened, scores of people seized their chance to escape, fleeing along the dirt road outside.
By noon, the Malian government confirmed that its troops were inside the premises and clearing the hotel "floor by floor".
One man said that he emerged from his room to find bodies in the lobby.
"We were evacuated - there were many people inside the hotel at that stage. I saw corpses in the lobby," he said.
"I hid in my room and there was knocking at my door saying the security forces had arrived and it was over." Air France said that a flight crew was staying in the Radisson at the time, but all 12 members were safe. US authorities said that six Americans were rescued.
Four Belgians were registered at the hotel and one, Geoffrey Dieudonne, was among the dead. He was a government official visiting Mali to help train the country's civil service.
One guest who managed to escape, Sekouba Diabate, a Guinean singer, said the attackers spoke English with Nigerian accents. "I heard them say in English, 'did you load it?', 'Let's go'," said Mr Diabate. English-speaking fighters from Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group, are known to have travelled to Mali to join al-Qa'ida.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who returned to the country from a state visit, said on state television that the dead included two militants.
Keita declared a national state of emergency from midnight and three days of national mourning. (© Daily Telegraph, London)