Mali hotel attack: 27 people dead, according to UN official
A total of 27 people have been killed in an attack on the Radisson hotel in Mali's capital, a UN official has revealed.
The official said 12 bodies were found in the basement of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, with another 15 bodies discovered on the second floor. It is not immediately clear if the figure of 27 also includes any attackers involved in the incident.
SECURITY MSG 4/4 Monitor local media for updates. US citizens should adhere to the instructions of local authorities and monitor local media— U.S. Embassy Bamako (@USEmbassyMali) November 20, 2015
The official stressed that the building has yet to be totally cleared, and operations are ongoing.
Another UN official, UN Mali mission spokesman Olivier Salgado, said two "extremists" had been killed. He added that forces are going from room-to-room, checking for more casualties.
Malian special forces freed scores of people taken hostage by the gunmen in the hotel, according to a military spokesman.
Army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar" - "God is great" in Arabic - before firing on the guards and taking hostages.
National broadcaster ORTM, citing security officials, said 18 bodies had already been found at the hotel and that no more hostages were being held.
A source with Mali's UN mission said at least 12 bodies had been recovered.
It was not immediately clear whether any attackers were still alive inside the hotel. Gunfire continued into the late afternoon, and Mr Traore said operations were continuing.
An extremist group that two years ago split from al Qaida's North Africa branch claimed responsibility for the attack.
The group, led by Moktar Belmoktar, said it wanted fighters freed from Mali's prisons and for attacks against northern Malians to stop.
The jihadist group, known as the Mourabitounes, was formed in 2013 after Belmoktar left al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and fused with a Malian militant group.
The statement said the Mourabitounes attacked in co-ordination with the "Sahara Emirate" affiliated with al Qaida.
Malian special forces were freeing hostages "floor by floor", Mr Traore said earlier.
US special forces assisted Malian troops in hostage rescue efforts, said Colonel Mark Cheadle of the US Army's Africa Command. President Barack Obama said he was monitoring the situation.
At least six Americans were evacuated from the hotel but it was unclear how many more were inside, Col Cheadle said.
France's national gendarme service said about 40 French special police forces were playing a support role. The French defence ministry said French soldiers arrived in Bamako to support Malian forces.
The guests at the sprawling, cream-and-pink luxury hotel, which has 190 rooms and features a spa, outdoor pool and ballroom, came from many countries. But the attack was perceived by many in France, particularly in the government, as a new attack on French interests.
The French military operation in Mali in 2013 against Islamic extremists who were holding the northern half of the country was the first of several foreign interventions that President Francois Hollande has launched as president. Those interventions have prompted increased threats against France and French interests from Islamic extremist groups from al Qaida's North African arm to the Islamic State group.
Mr Hollande said: "We should yet again stand firm and show our solidarity with a friendly country, Mali."
Air France says 12 members of a plane crew staying at the hotel were all safe.
Mr Traore said at least one guest reported that the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Kouran before he was allowed to leave the hotel.
Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said four Belgians were registered at the hotel but their whereabouts were unknown.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that about 10 Chinese citizens sheltered inside their hotel rooms. The embassy was in phone contact with them and all were reported safe, according to the report. All are employees of Chinese companies working in Mali.
Five Turkish Airlines personnel were among the freed hostages, Turkey's state-run news agency said.
All 20 Indians staying at the hotel were safely evacuated, Vikas Swarup, spokesman for India's foreign ministry tweeted.
The UN mission sent security reinforcements and medical aid to the scene. UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said some "quick-reaction forces" deployed to the hotel and were supporting Malian and other security forces. He said the UN had a few staff members in the Radisson at the time of the attack but they are all safely out.