Wednesday 18 September 2019

'North African Islamic militant groups' carried out Mali hostage siege which left at least 21 dead

* 21 people killed - Mali President
* 170 taken hostage at hotel by men screaming 'Allahu Akbar'
* Gunmen burst into Radisson Blu carrying AK47s at 7am - reports
* Gunmen moving floor by floor through hotel
* US special forces helped rescue at least six Americans
* At least two private security guards injured
* Former French colony battling rebels allied to al Qaeda for several years
* All 10 members of the Irish Defence Forces accounted
* US President Obama 'monitoring situation in Mali'

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Twenty-one people were killed on Friday in an attack on a hotel in Mali's capital by Islamist militants and seven people were wounded, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said on state television. The dead included two militants.

Keita declared a national state of emergency from midnight and three days of national mourning.

The UN had intiially declared a death toll of 27 people.

U.S. government agencies believe the North African Islamic militant groups al Mourabitoun and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb carried out Friday's attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali, a U.S. government source said.

The United States has no indication that Islamic State or Boko Haram militants were involved in the attack, the source said.

The gunmen are "holding no more hostages", AFP reports.

"These people have been taken under the wing of the civil authorities," he said.

He added the operation was undertaken "uniquely" by Malian forces.

Gunmen stormed the hotel screaming 'Allahu Akbar' or
Gunmen stormed the hotel screaming 'Allahu Akbar' or "God is great" in Arabic. Photo: Google maps

Gunmen shouting Islamic slogans attacked the Radisson Blu hotel full of foreigners early this morning, taking 170 people hostage.

Two Malian citizens and a French citizen died in the incident. A Belgian man has also been killed.

A security source said some of the hostages had been freed after being made to recite verses from the Koran.

One hostage who was freed said he heard the gunmen speaking English.

"I heard them say in English 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'," singer Sékouba 'Bambino' Diabate told Reuters.

"I wasn't able to see them because in these kinds of situations it's hard."

Gunmen stormed the hotel screaming 'Allahu Akbar' or "God is great" in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages.

The gunmen were moving floor by floor through the hotel, according to a security source.

"They are in the process of going floor by floor, room by room. They've now arrived at the seventh floor," said a security source during the operation.

So far, it has been confirmed that Turkish, Chinese, Indian, Belgian, French and German nationals were inside the hotel when the hostage situation began.

A building contractor who works at the hotel told the Daily Telegraph:

"When I was going to the hotel in the morning, I saw people arriving in a diplomatic vehicle. There were three with guns. They killed the security guards oustide the hotel and took their weapons.

"And then they went inside. And I heard more shooting."

The man then fled for his own safety.

At least two private security guards have been injured, according to Malian security forces.

Some guests escaped the hotel. Monique Kouame Affoue Ekonde, an Ivorian, said she and six other people were escorted out by security forces.

Raid

The raid on the hotel, which lies just west of the city centre near government ministries and diplomatic offices in the former French colony, comes a week after Islamic State (IS) militants killed 129 people in Paris.

Read More: Mali hotel siege: What we know so far

Read More:  Mali Bamako hotel siege: Timeline of the country's terrorist attacks

French president Francois Hollande confirmed during the rescue operation that French special forces were at the hotel.

"In response to a request by Malian authorities, the defence minister ... has decided to send a unit of special forces," a French defence ministry statement said.

"The unit has been asked to help Malian security forces with regard the ongoing Bamako hotel Radisson hostage situation."

Read More: Mapped: Where is safe and unsafe for Irish citizens to travel in Europe?

The UN force in Mali's website says they have 9,142 soldiers, 1,178 police and 1,180 civilians on the ground.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ireland was prepared to send additional Irish troops to Mali in order to relieve French soldiers who would be sent to relieve French forces to fight IS.

There are currently 10 members of the Irish Defence Forces in Mali and all are accounted for, according to the Defence Forces.

The Taoiseach said: "All our personnel are safe, I've checked that. So the advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs is for Irish people not to travel to Mali."

"There's no proposition or no proposal or no request for Ireland in respect of Mali or anywhere else. The French ambassador and the French foreign minister did say that the French forces are stretched in the various locations they are, and they might ask for help. But there isn't any formal request from Mali."

"Any request that comes before the minister for foreign affairs obviously will be considered by Government, but would have to apply with the conditions under which we would give assistance in any kind of form. And clearly there are restrictions in the kind of assistance that Ireland might be able to give because of our neutrality and because of the requirements that we have to measure up to. So as of now there is no request, no proposal for any assistance."

"It (any request) would have to go before the Dail, if the government were to say that we will assistance in a particular way.Clearly it's not for Ireland to be putting troops into other countries. If a request comes, we will obviously consider it."

Read More: Taoiseach says Government willing to send troops to Mali to relieve French personnel

Read More: Taoiseach: Latest security briefing says terror attack here 'possible but not likely'

US special forces helped to rescue "at least six" Americans in Mali, according to a US official.

Twelve Air France crew members were also at the hotel and confirmed safe, the French airline said.

Air France flights from and to Bamako for Friday have been cancelled as a precaution.

Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said five crew members of Turkish Airlines were rescued from the hotel, and authorities were in contact with two others.

Authorities in India have said all 20 Indians who were inside the hotel have been safely evacuated.

Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in Chad, while US President Barack Obama said he was also monitoring the situation.

Violence

Local newspaper Jeune Afrique reported that three heavily-armed men initially entered the hotel at 7am. It is believed there were up to 10 assailants in total and their reasons behind it remain unclear.

The identity of the Bamako gunmen, or the group to which they belong, is not known.

Northern Mali was occupied by Islamist fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, for most of 2012. Although they were driven out by a French-led military operation, sporadic violence has continued.

A senior member of the hotel's security detail said two private security guards were injured in the early stages of the attack.

Witnesses in the area said police surrounded the hotel and blocked roads leading into the neighbourhood.

The U.S. Embassy tweeted that it was "aware of an ongoing active shooter operation at the Radisson Hotel," and instructed its citizens to stay indoors.

A US presidential envoy to the coalition battling Islamic State said it was too soon to speculate whether the hostage situation in Mali was related in some way to the attacks in Paris last week.

"It is too really to soon to speculate" on whether the attacks may be related, Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk told MSNBC. "The groups in Mali aren't particularly connected to the ISIS groups," he added.

In March masked gunmen shot up a restaurant popular with foreigners in Bamako, located in Mali's south, killing five people.

Read More: Five killed in Mali restaurant attack

In August, Malian security forces stormed a hotel used by United Nations staff and freed four hostages held there by suspected Islamist militants during a nearly 24-hour siege in which 12 people died.

Read More: 12 dead, four UN workers rescued in Mali hotel siege

About 1,000 French troops remain in the country. The Netherlands also has troops working with the UN mission in Mali.

According to the Dutch defence ministry, 450 Dutch military personnel are taking part in the mission along with four Apache and three Chinook helicopters. Most of the Dutch force is based in Gao, but there are a few officers at the UN mission headquarters in Bamako.

China's embassy issued a warning to Chinese businesses and residents to step up safety precautions in the face of "continuous deterioration of security conditions" in Bamako.

China has a long history of providing aid and investment to Mali, particularly in the areas of transport infrastructure, construction and mineral extraction.

Read More: Why Isil and al-Qa'ida are happy to associate with the spilling of blood in Europe

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Defence Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD said: "If there was an EU request for Ireland to contribute more personnel and resources to this United Nations mandated mission then that is something that we should be open to facilitating."

“The Irish personnel currently provide military training and advice to the Malian Armed Forces and I see no reason why we should not consider enhancing our presence in this training operation."

“Clearly though there would have to be a very thorough assessment undertaken and it would require debate in, and approval, by the Dáil as any increased participation in the mission would bring it above the threshold of 12 where the triple lock mechanism comes into force.

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