Mali hunts for sus­pects af­ter deadly ho­tel siege

Putin seeks global anti-ter­ror­ism fight

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAMAKO: Mali was hunt­ing yes­ter­day for sus­pects over the ji­hadist siege at a lux­ury ho­tel that left 19 peo­ple dead, mostly for­eign­ers, as the pres­i­dent warned that no-one in the world could hide from ter­ror­ism. The gov­ern­ment has de­clared a state of emer­gency af­ter the bloody nine-hour hostage-tak­ing at the Radis­son Blu ho­tel in the cap­i­tal Bamako on Fri­day, ex­actly a week af­ter the Paris mas­sacre. The AlMura­bitoun group, an Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate led by no­to­ri­ous one-eyed Al­ge­rian mil­i­tant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, nick­named the “Un­catch­able” or “Mr Marl­boro”, claimed the at­tack.

Gun­men went on the ram­page through the ho­tel from the early morn­ing, shoot­ing in the cor­ri­dors and tak­ing 170 guests and staff hostage. The as­sault, which ended when Malian and in­ter­na­tional troops stormed the ho­tel, left 19 peo­ple dead as well as two at­tack­ers, Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said. The vic­tims in­cluded six Rus­sians, three Chi­nese, two Bel­gians, an Amer­i­can and a Sene­galese. A Malian mil­i­tary source had said ear­lier there were at least 27 dead, while at least “three ter­ror­ists had been killed or blown them­selves up”. Au­thor­i­ties are now “ac­tively pur­su­ing” at least three peo­ple over the at­tack in the for­mer French colony, one se­cu­rity source told AFP.

‘Value of Life’

Keita, who vowed in an overnight tele­vised ad­dress that “terror will not win”, vis­ited the site of the car­nage yes­ter­day. “Nowhere in the world is one safe from th­ese bar­bar­ians from an­other time,” he said, adding that the at­tack­ers had “de­cided to break with hu­man­ity”. Mali will be­gin three days of na­tional mourn­ing to­day. Se­cu­rity re­mained tight around the Radis­son and other ho­tels in Bamako and was also boosted at pub­lic build­ings and banks. The at­tack came as fears mount over ji­hadist threats a week af­ter 130 peo­ple died in the Paris at­tacks claimed by the Is­lamic State group, which also said it had downed a Rus­sian pas­sen­ger jet in Egypt on Oct 31.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and his Rus­sian and Chi­nese coun­ter­parts Vladimir Putin and Xi Jin­ping all con­demned the ho­tel siege. “This bar­bar­ity only stiff­ens our re­solve to meet this chal­lenge,” Obama said of the global ter­ror­ist threat. Mali has been torn apart by un­rest since the north fell un­der the con­trol of ji­hadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012. The Is­lamists were largely ousted by a French-led mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion launched the fol­low­ing year, but large swathes of Mali re­main lawless. UN chief also con­demned Fri­day’s “hor­rific ter­ror­ist at­tack,” suggest­ing the violence was aimed at de­stroy­ing peace ef­forts in the coun­try.

Six employees of Rus­sian re­gional air­line Volga-Dnepr were killed, Rus­sia’s for­eign min­istry said, while six oth­ers were res­cued. Putin sent a tele­gram of con­do­lences to Keita and said “the widest in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion” was needed to con­front global ter­ror­ism, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by the Krem­lin.

Dra­matic Res­cue

The as­sault be­gan around 0700 GMT, when gun­men pulled up at the ho­tel and start­ing shoot­ing their way in­side, tak­ing guests and staff hostage. Malian tele­vi­sion broad­cast chaotic scenes from in­side the build­ing as po­lice and other se­cu­rity per­son­nel ush­ered be­wil­dered guests along cor­ri­dors to safety. Spe­cial forces in­clud­ing Malian, French and two US sol­diers who were also in the area - staged a dra­matic floor-by-floor res­cue, end­ing the siege af­ter about nine hours.

In an au­dio record­ing broad­cast by Al-Jazeera tele­vi­sion, Belmokhtar’s group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity, say­ing it had worked with Al-Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb. French De­fence Min­is­ter JeanYves Le Drian said Belmokhtar, one of the world’s most wanted men, was in­deed “likely” the brains be­hind the as­sault. The ji­hadist is also ac­cused of spear­head­ing an at­tack on an Al­ge­rian gas plant in 2013 in which around 40 hostages were killed, most of them West­ern­ers.

At­tack­ers ‘Spoke English’

The pala­tial 190-room Radis­son, re­garded as one of west Africa’s best ho­tels, is a favourite with en­trepreneurs, tourists and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from across the world. Guinean singer Sek­ouba Bam­bino Di­a­bate, who was among the sur­vivors, told AFP the gun­men spoke English among them­selves. “They were fir­ing in­side the ho­tel, in the cor­ri­dors,” Di­a­bate said. France has more than 1,000 troops in its for­mer colony, a key bat­tle­ground of the Barkhane counter-terror mis­sion span­ning five coun­tries in Africa’s restive Sa­hel re­gion. The at­tack fol­lows a ho­tel siege in Au­gust in the cen­tral Mali town of Se­vare in which five UN work­ers and four sol­diers were killed.Five peo­ple were also killed in an as­sault on a Bamako restau­rant in March. — Agen­cies

BAMAKO: Malian Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita speaks to the press dur­ing a visit to the Radis­son Blu ho­tel yes­ter­day. —AFP

French navy tech­ni­cians work near a French Rafale air­craft on the flight deck on the air­craft car­rier Charles-de-Gaulle in the east­ern Mediter­ranean sea yes­ter­day. —AFP

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