Terror at­tack on lux­ury ho­tel in Mali, 27 killed

Close shave for 20 In­di­ans; US, French forces help end siege

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - Jayanth Ja­cob and Reuters let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

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.

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