Bamako: Investigators in Mali were today hunting at least three people suspected of links to the jihadist siege at a luxury hotel in the capital that left at least 19 people dead. The government has declared a state of emergency after the bloody nine-hour hostage-taking at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako yesterday, exactly a week after the Paris massacre. The Al-Murabitoun 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, many of them foreigners. 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 several 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.
Keita is due to visit the site of the carnage today as Mali prepares to begin three days of national mourning on Monday. “Terror will not win,” Keita said in a televised address. “Long live Mali.” A security cordon remained in place around the Radisson and security was also boosted around public buildings and banks and other hotels. The attack came as fears mount over terrorist threats a week after 130 people died in the devastating Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group, which also said it had downed a Russian passenger jet in Egypt on October 31.
US President Barack Obama and his Russian and Chinese counterparts Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping all condemned the attack. “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 Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned yesterday’s “horrific terrorist attack,” suggesting the violence was aimed at destroying peace efforts in the country.