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Extremists armed with guns and grenades kill 27 in Mali hotel attack

By AP Reporter

Islamic extremists armed with guns and grenades yesterday killed at least 27 people in an attack on a hotel in Mali's capital.

A UN official said 12 bodies were found in the basement of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako and 15 more on the second floor.

It was not immediately clear if any of the attackers were among the remains, but another UN official, Olivier Salgado, said two extremists had been killed.

"It was more like a real terrorist attack," said Mr Salgado. "The intention was clearly to kill, not to have people taken hostage."

Authorities last night stressed that the situation was ongoing, with security forces going room-to-room to clear the building.

US and French special forces worked with Malian troops to help bystanders after attackers stormed the building.

A Malian military official initially said there were 10 gunmen, but later in the day it was unclear how many assailants took part.

At least six Americans were evacuated from the hotel, although it remains unclear how many were inside.

Around 170 guests and employees were initially taken hostage, but some escaped in the initial chaos or hid in the sprawling hotel, which has 190 rooms, a spa, an outdoor pool and a ballroom.

At least one person reported that attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Koran before he was allowed to leave.

The guests included visitors from France, Belgium, Germany, China, India, Canada, the Ivory Coast and Turkey. But the attack was perceived by many in France, particularly in the government, as an assault on its interests.

An extremist group led by Moktar Belmoktar, that two years ago split from al-Qaeda's north Africa branch, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.

It 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-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and fused with a Malian militant group.

The statement claimed the Mourabitounes had attacked in coordination with the Sahara Emirate affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The French military operation in Mali in 2013 against extremists who were holding the northern half of the country was the first of several interventions French president Francois Hollande has launched since becoming leader. The manoeuvres have prompted increased threats against France and French interests from Islamic extremists from al-Qaeda's north African arm to Islamic state.

The gunmen are said to have stormed the building shouting "Allahu akbar" [God is great], before firing on the hotel guards and throwing grenades.

Witness Monique Kouame Affoue Ekonde, from the Ivory Coast, said she and six others, including a Turkish woman, were escorted from the building by security forces as the gunmen rushed toward the fifth or sixth floor.

She added that she was "in a state of shock".

Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said four Belgians had been registered at the hotel.

And the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, citing its diplomats in Mali, reported about 10 Chinese citizens took shelter in their rooms, and all were reported safe. All are employees of Chinese companies working in Mali.

Also reported safe and well were 12 members of an Air France flight crew and another five from Turkish Airlines.

All 20 guests from India were evacuated without being hurt, said Vikas Swarup, a spokesman for India's foreign ministry.

Belfast Telegraph


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