Terror attack on luxury hotel in Mali, 27 killed
Close shave for 20 Indians; US, French forces help end siege
NEW DELHI/BAMAKO: Islamist extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital on Friday, leaving at least 27 people dead, but a group of 20 Indians had a narrow escape following a swift rescue operation led by US and French special forces.
A little known extremist group led by former al-Qaida commander Moktar Belmoktar claimed responsibility for the siege on the Radisson Blu hotel in the former French colony, which many in France saw as a new assault on their country’s interests a week after the Paris attacks.
But it was a lucky escape for 20 Indians when the gunmen stormed the hotel in the West African nation and took 170 hostages. The ministry of external affairs confirmed that the Indians — all cousins belonging to one Bulani family from Ajmer in Rajasthan — had been evacuated.
“We all are safe now. We stay in the third floor of the hotel in the B block,” Mukesh, one of the Indians brought to safety, told HT over phone. He said he could hear “rampant gunshots and guests in the hotel who were under attack crying aloud”.
He said four gunmen arrived in a car with diplomatic number plate and started spraying bullets before entering the lobby of the hotel. There was no official confirmation of the same. “It all got over around 4.25pm (8.50pm IST) local time,” he said.
The Bulanis are distributors of LG and TVS Motors in landlocked African country. “They all stay on the third floor of the hotel on B block and the attack happened on A block,” Kapil Bulani, family member, told HT over phone from Dubai. “They kept their cool and were brought to safety. There were no women or children in the group,” he said.
More than seven hours after the initial assault, a security source declared the drama over, along with the deaths of two militants. But the security ministry said gunmen continued to hold out against special forces on the top floors of the seven-storey building. “The attackers no longer have hostages. They are dug in in the upper floors. They are alone with the Malian special forces who are trying to dislodge them,” spokesman Amadou Sangho said.
A UN official said UN peacekeepers searching the hotel had made a preliminary count of 27 bodies. State television showed troops brandishing AK47s in the lobby of the Radisson Blu, one of the capital Bamako’s smartest hotels and beloved of foreigners. A body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
Peacekeepers saw 12 dead bodies in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor, the UN official told Reuters.