Islamic Militants Storm Hotel in Mali, 27 Dead

scene of Mali attack

Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Islamic Militants Storm Hotel in Mali, 27 Dead

| published November 20, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff


According to media and first responder reports from the Malian capital city of Bamako, at least 27 people are dead after Islamic militants seized control of the upscale Radisson Blu hotel in downtown Bamaka on Friday.

A group of at three-to-four heavily armed militants—aligned to an al Qaeda and ISIS-linked group called al Mourabitounthe—stormed the lobby with AK-47 assault rifles, then, quickly took control of the facility, herding guests and employees into common areas and moving floor by floor, room by room.

Some witnesses say that the militants shot indiscriminately at guests and workers, but others say that the terrorist were “screening” some guests, asking them to recite passages from the Koran, and releasing only those for whom the militants were able to establish genuine knowledge of Islam. Those unable to quote passages from the Koran were shot with automatic weapons. Outside the hotel, and for blocks around, people could hear heavy gunfire coming from inside the building.

Bamaka police and Mali army commandos responded quickly, and within two hours a team of heavily armed commados fought their way into the hotel in an attempt to free the hostages. There were reports of more gunfire, along with official reports that the police and the militants were engaged in a battle for control of the upper floors of the building. Though exact numbers were not clear at the time, witness say that many hostages escaped before police stormed the hotel, while others witnesses say security forces rescued additional guests. One Mali government estimate says that 170 people escaped the carnage.

United Nations peacekeepers were also on the scene soon after the attacks began. It is the U.N. contingent which provided the estimate of 27 dead. Dozens of French troops were also on the scene, assisting the Malian and U.N. forces.

France has maintained a large military presence in Mali since uprisings and rebellions turned the country toward chaos in 2012—peaceful uprisings which quickly turned violent as Islamic extremists quickly gained the upper hand among the various rebel factions. The French have some 3,550 troops posted in northern Mali, the region of the country where the majority of the militant activity has taken place. French troops successfully gained the upper hand in Mali by the end of 2013, but terrorist activity remains a constant threat in a country—like many across the sub-Saharan belt of Africa—which is torn between Islamic factions in the north and Christian communities in the south. Several major militant groups dominate Saharan Africa’s countryside, among them Boko Haram, smaller groups loyal to al Qaeda, and numerous militant operations now pledged to ISIS.

ISIS is engaged in a struggle to gain the allegiance of jihadist groups across Africa, and has already wrested control from several factions of Boko Haram and al Qaeda in at least five countries.

The attacks in Mali come just one week after deadly terror attacks in Paris resulted in 130 deaths and more than 350 wounded. One Friday of last week ISIS-backed militants detonated suicide vests and explosives at the Stade de France during a soccer match, opened fire on civilians at restaurants and bistros in downtown Paris, and stormed into the Bataclan Concert Hall during a rock concert, where at least 80 were killed in a two-hour siege.

Parts of the Malian capital city were on lockdown as police and military units attempted to regain control of the hotel, and as U.N. and French forces sweep the neighborhood and other parts of downtown Bamako. Mali’s President, Boubacar Keita, was planning a trade summit in neighboring Chad with other African leaders, but his spokespersons say he has cut that meeting short to return to the capital to oversee operations to restore order.

Among those inside the hotel: flight attendants and crew for several airlines (their nationalities have not been made public yet), a group of a half dozen Turkish employees of Turkish Airlines, more than 20 Europeans, many of them French, Belgian or German, and at least 10 tourists from China. The official Chinese news agency is stating that all the Chinese citizens escaped unharmed, and in Ankara officials say that the Turkish employees managed to escape soon after the siege began.

The White House and the State Department are trying to locate and confirm the whereabouts of all Americans who were working or traveling in Mali this week.

The group claiming responsibility on the internet—al Mourabitoun, sometimes called the Islamic State in the Medev—is aligned loosely with both ISIS and al Qaeda. It has engaged in terror attacks before, including an August attack in the city of Sevare, in which 17 people were killed and scores injured. The group has also been linked to violence in at least four other countries, and was responsible for a 2013 attack on Algerian oil fields and pipelines which caused extensive damage. Terrorism analysts suggest that the assault by al Mourabitoum in Mali may be an open signal to ISIS that it intends to pledge its allegiance to the Islamic State through direct violent action in Africa.

Related Thursday Review articles:

French Airstrikes Continue Over Syria; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; November 19, 2015.

Terror Arrests Made in Paris Suburb; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; November 18, 2015.