After gunmen initially took more than 170 hostages in the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital of Bamako, nearly half of the hostages are now reportedly out of danger. Citing the security minister, local media say 73 people have been freed. They add that security forces are now trying to make their way through the hotel.
According to Radio France International, 18 bodies have been found in the building, in a report that cites an unidentified foreign security official. France’s BFMTV reports that the assailants don’t have any more hostages, citing an interview with Mali’s Internal Security Minister Col. Salif Traore.
Two attackers have been killed, local news outlet MaliActu reports, citing a source in Mali’s military.
The reported number of hostages at risk has fluctuated, in part because some guests managed to escape from the hotel and others were released. At least six Americans are among the hostages who have been rescued from the hotel, a military spokesman tells NPR.
Special forces teams have been moving through the hotel floor by floor, freeing hostages. The assailants had gathered on the seventh floor, according to multiple local reports. Onlookers say they heardng sporadic gunfire as the hostage situation continued.
“The situation is worrying, but it is not hopeless,” President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta said, according to news site Malikahere.
Some witnesses say they heard the attackers speaking English; a Malian army officer tells the AP that the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” in Arabic as they began their attack.
This is a developing story, with conflicting information being reported; we’ll update as news emerges from Mali.
Update at 10:10 a.m. ET: Al-Qaida Affiliate Claims Responsibility
Jihadist group Al-Mourabitoun says it is behind the attacks, Reuters reports, citing the group’s Twitter account. Affiliated with al-Qaida, the group is “based in northern Mali and made up mostly of Tuaregs and Arabs,” Reuters says.
That claim has not been verified, although Reuters also notes that the group was responsible for an attack on a hotel in central Mali in August.
Al-Mourabitoun was started by militia leader Mokhtar Belmokhta after he left al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb, or AQIM. It’s also the same group that was behind the deadly seizure of a gas facility in Algeria, in January of 2013.
Update at 9:50 a.m. ET: 7 Americans Have Left Hotel
Seven Americans are among the hostages who have been rescued from the hotel, according to Col. Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command.
Update at 9:33 a.m. ET: U.S. Special Operations Assisting
Saying it’s monitoring the situation, the U.S. Africa Command tweets, “Small team of U.S. Special Operations Forces assisting with hostage rescue efforts.”
Update at 9:10 a.m. ET: French And U.S. Participation
“Our special forces are intervening with the Malians,” France’s ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep, “and they are taking over floor by floor.”
He also says, “The Americans are providing us with a lot of tactical relief and intelligence.”
Update at 9 a.m. ET: U.S. Role In Hostage Response
Around 25 U.S. military personnel were in Mali’s capital when the attack began. A military source tells NPR that some of those Americans helped move civilians from the hotel to secure locations.
Update at 8:35 a.m. ET: News Of An Assault; French Help Offered
Saying he’s been in touch with his Malian counterpart Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, French President Francois Hollande says France will provide any help that’s necessary. Hollande also said that an assault will try to ensure the hostages’ safety.
Local news site Malikahere says that about 20 minutes ago, journalists were told to move back, as a final assault was being launched.
Update at 7:50 a.m. ET: 137 Hostages Currently Held
“According to our latest information 124 guests and 13 employees are still in the building,” the Radisson hotel says in a new statement about the attack.
According to reports from India, the government there says 20 Indians were among the hostages in the capital of the former French colony. The hotel was also hosting 12 Air France employees; the airline says they’re safe, according to Agence France-Presse.
Our original post continues:
Earlier Friday, the hotel released a statement saying people had locked 140 guests and 13 staff members inside, which was cordoned off by security forces after the attack began.
“A senior security source said some of the hostages had been freed after being made to recite verses from the Koran,” Reuters reports.
Citing Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore, the AP reports:
“Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting ‘Allahu Akbar,’ or ‘God is great,’ in Arabic before firing on the guards. A staffer at the hotel who gave his name as Tamba Diarra said over the phone that the attackers used grenades in the assault.”
International visitors commonly stay at the Radisson Blu hotel, which is in a part of Bamako that’s home to diplomatic missions, business offices and restaurants. The hotel is less than a mile from the U.S. embassy.
At least seven Chinese tourists are among the guests being held hostage, reports China’s Xinhua news agency.
In its statement, Radisson Blu says the hostages were taken by two people. The hotel is operated by the Rezidor Hotel Group, which has its headquarters in Brussels.
NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports:
“Soldiers from France, the former colonial power, have been in Mali since driving out extremist fighters who seized control of the north two years ago. They occupied legendary Timbuktu and other towns and cities for nearly a year. The Sahara Desert nation has since been blighted by insecurity.
“The U.S. Embassy in Mali is tweeting that the mission is aware of an ongoing shooter operation at the hotel and is advising all Americans to take shelter where they are and contact their families.”