Mali escape for SA men
At least 27 dead after gunmen attack hotel SA mom’s anguish at death of IS fighter
BAMAKO, Mali – A Jeffreys Bay engineer based in Mali was barricaded for hours in an international agency building near the hotel attacked by jihadists yesterday.
At least 27 people are believed to have died, including a Belgian diplomat. Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in Chad, his office said.
Four South African pilots are understood to have been holed up in the same building as the engineer.
The man, whose name may not be disclosed for security reasons, said they had had food, water, camp beds and sleeping bags and could have held out for some time.
Over a few hours yesterday the engineer relayed information via terse messages to Weekend Argus as reports of more deaths surfaced and special forces made their way through the luxury hotel.
“US special forces on the scene with the French.
“Malian special forces already up to 6th floor. More than… 3 are dead. Were shot through hotel doors,” he wrote. “City dead quiet.” Around 6pm he messaged: “They took 18 bodies out of the hotel. I think it will be over soon.”
The attack on the Radisson started early yesterday when jihadists stormed the hotel and took 170 hostages.
Automatic weapons fire was heard on the seventh floor of the 190- room hotel, where it was thought as many as 10 gunmen roamed through the building, looking for guests and members of staff.
By late yesterday all the surviving hostages had been freed, but it was understood a number of the attackers were holed up on the hotel’s roof. Three had been killed.
Among the victims were Belgian diplomat Geoffrey Dieudonne and a French national, with the initial death toll likely to rise.
Twenty-two Americans were rescued unharmed but 12 bodies were found in the hotel’s basement and a further 15 victims were discovered on the second floor.
Rescuers led by US Special Forces tried to finish off the gunmen. The al-Qaeda-affiliated group Al-Mourabitoun, based in northern Mali, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Several witnesses said the gunmen entered through the gates of the hotel in a car with a diplomatic number plate before opening fire with AK47s and throwing grenades inside the building. The gunmen spoke to the hostages in English, according to one freed hostage.
Guinean singer Sekouba “Bam- bino” Diabate, who was freed by Malian security forces, told the Daily Mail he had hidden under his bed and heard the attackers in the adjoining room say in English, “Did you load it?” and “Let’s go.”
“I wasn’t able to see them because in these kinds of situations it’s hard. I woke up with the sounds of gunshots and for me, it was just small bandits who came in the hotel to claim something.
“After 20 or 30 minutes, I realised these are not just petty criminals,” said Diabate.
The hotel’s head of security, Seydou Dembele, said two security guards had been shot in the legs in the early stages of the assault.
“We saw two of the attackers. One was wearing a balaclava. The other was black- skinned. They forced the first barrier,” Dembele told Reuters.
Within minutes of the assault, police and then soldiers had surrounded the hotel and blocked roads leading to the neighbourhood.
Dieudonne, an official with the parliament of Belgium’s Frenchspeaking community, had been in Mali for a convention.
“Mr Dieudonne, with other foreign colleagues, was in Mali to give a seminar for Malian parliamentarians,” the Brussels- based parliament said.
Two workers for Turkish Airlines and six Chinese nationals are thought to be among the missing hostages.
Twelve members of an Air France crew were released from the hotel by Malian special forces while five other Turkish Airlines employees managed to escape from the hotel, Turkish officials confirmed.
Yesterday South Africa’s International Relations and Co-operation Department spokesman Clayson Monyela said it was not clear JOYCE Snyman clutched an image of her son’s driving licence. The 70-year-old Durban grandmother wanted to know if her son, a suspected Islamic State fighter, was dead or alive.
Snyman’s 44-year old son Aqeel Abdul-Haq Kloberie was reportedly an IS terrorist, killed in combat in Iraq, if reports on social media are accurate.
Kloberie had converted from Christianity to Islam in 1991, after finishing high school.
A tweet by @IraqLiveUpdate showed a man holding an SA driver’s licence bearing the details of an AA Kloberie. The text accompanying the image read: “Dead Daesh terrorist held South African drivers licence! #SouthAfrica joins the club..#Iraq.”
Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, said it was waiting for the Department of Home Affairs to verify the licence and would liaise with the man’s family. “If the body is that ( of Kloberie), we will begin processes to bring the body home.”
Snyman had been waiting for five months to hear from her son, who had left for Bahrain in March.
“He works in the oil refineries, and had recently finished working for Eskom at the Medupi plant.”
It was her grandson who alerted her to the tweet on Thursday. “It was a shock when we saw this... But all we know is that his licence was found on a body, but we don’t know if the body is his, it could be anyone... I am so confused, I just want to find out if my child is alive.”
Na’eem Jeenah, director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, said he was treating the image “with a pinch of salt” because IS fighters often denounced their citizenship. “Why would you (still) need an SA driver’s licence?”
‘I woke up with the
whether any South Africans had been caught up in yesterday’s attack.
He said the department was trying to find this out and monitoring developments.
The engineer said he had gone to work early yesterday and had been 4km away when the gunmen had stormed the hotel. One of the engineer’s colleagues had been 60m away from the Radisson when the attack started.
While shocked, the engineer said his colleague was fine.
There had been four South Africans, pilots who flew humanitarian missions and for mines, who had been with him in the international agency building yesterday.
The engineer said they had replaced other pilots who were sent home in August after surviving a similar attack at the Hotel Byblos in the Malian town of Sevare.
Thirteen people were killed in that attack.
Last night the engineer said because of the nature of his work, he no longer feared for his safety.
“You become used to this way of life. Been threatened to be killed, shot at, car burnt, etc, etc. Not worried.”
State television showed footage of troops wielding AK47s in the lobby of the Radisson, one of Bamako’s smartest hotels. In the background, a body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
Minister of Internal Security Colonel Salif Traoré said the gunmen had burst through a security barrier at 9am SA time, spraying the area with gunfire and shouting “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is great” in Arabic.
ASSAULT: French soldiers leave the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, yesterday after storming the building following an attack by Islamic jihadists. At least 27 hotel residents and visitors were believed dead.
SAVED: An injured hostage is carried by security forces from the Radisson Blu hotel during the attack yesterday.