Saturday 10 December 2016

US aidworker named among 27 dead in Mali hotel attack

Warren Strobel and Phil Stewart

Published 21/11/2015 | 09:29

Mali security personal carry the body of a victim inside the Radisson Blu hotel after an attack by gunmen on the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015
Mali security personal carry the body of a victim inside the Radisson Blu hotel after an attack by gunmen on the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015

A U.S. citizen died in the attack on a luxury hotel in Bamako, Mali, where armed Islamist militants took hostages on Friday, the U.S. State Department said.

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Six Americans were recovered safely and U.S. special forces assisted in the rescue efforts, U.S. officials said earlier.

The State Department, in a statement, identified the victim as Anita Datar. It included a separate comment from her family that said she was an aid worker who "has spent much of her career working to advance global health and international development, with a focus on population and reproductive health, family planning, and HIV."

The family said she was survived by a son, her parents, brother "and many, many friends around the world."

It said she was a senior manager at Palladium Group and a founding member of Tulalens, a not-for-profit organization connecting underserved communities with health services.

The Washington Post and ABC News reported earlier that Datar was 41 year old and lived in Maryland.

Early on Friday morning, gunmen shouting Islamic slogans attacked the Radisson Blu hotel, which is frequented by foreigners, taking 170 people hostage in Bamako, the country's capital. At least 27 people were reported dead after Malian commandos stormed the hotel and dozens of people were reported to have escaped or been freed.

Representatives for U.S. Africa Command said American military personnel were helping move civilians to safety as Malian forces cleared the Radisson Blu.

"Mali forces have the lead in Bamako," Africa Command said in a tweet. "Small team of U.S. troops assisting with relocating rescued hostages."

Army Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for Africa Command, said six Americans were recovered from the hotel and he believed all were alive.

Another defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said five U.S. Defense Department personnel were at the hotel at the time of the siege and all have been accounted for. "We have no reports of any injuries," the official said.

One U.S. service member "who was at the location stepped in to assist first responders with moving civilians from the hotel to secure locations as Malian forces worked to clear the hotel of hostile gunmen," the official said. "U.S. forces did not directly participate in the operation."

A senior U.S. official said a security officer and a number of U.S. troops assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, who were in the area of the hotel at the time, were among the first on the scene.

The official said that when the U.S. security officer and troops entered the building to look for Americans inside, it was filled with smoke from a fire in the hotel kitchen.

"The first person they could not locate visually due to smoke but could hear the person," the official said. The officers went to the third floor of the building, working their way down, helping to evacuate people.

"They could not get above the third floor initially because (attackers) had barricaded the stairs," the official added.

The total number of U.S. citizens at the hotel during the siege was unclear.

In all, the defense official said, 22 military and civilian Pentagon employees were in Bamako at the time of the attack and all have been accounted for.

About 1,000 U.S. special forces are deployed across Africa at any given time.

A Malian official told French television station BFMTV that all remaining hostages were safe and out of the hotel.

The U.S. military was providing airlift support and aerial reconnaissance support to French forces in Mali under a 2013 agreement, Africa Command said.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who is attending a regional summit in Malaysia, was briefed by his national security adviser on the Bamako situation, a White House official said on Friday.

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