Gunmen Seize 170 Hostages in Mali
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A Malian military official says at least three people are confirmed dead in an attack on a hotel in the capital where more than 100 hostages are believed to be held.
Lt. Col. Diarran Kone told The Associated Press that the deaths were confirmed after gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu hotel Friday morning.
At least 170 hostages were believed to have been taken, though some 20 were freed later in the morning and others managed to escape with the help of security forces.
The Malian military said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards.
Ambulances were rushing to the hotel as a military helicopter flew overhead. The U.N. mission said it was sending security reinforcements.
The U.S. and French embassies told their citizens in Bamako to take shelter wherever they are. China's official state Xinhua News Agency quoted a Chinese guest as saying via a mobile chat app that several Chinese were among the guests trapped at the hotel.
The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the hotel said the assailants have "locked in" 140 guests and 30 employees.
A staffer at the Radisson Blu hotel who gave his name as Tamba Diarra said over the phone that the attackers used grenades in the assault.
Following a military coup in 2012, Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali, prompting a French-led military intervention in early 2013 that forced the extremists from northern towns and cities, though the north remains insecure and militant attacks have extended farther south this year.
In March masked gunmen shot up a restaurant in Bamako, located in Mali's south, that is popular with foreigners, killing five people.
About 1,000 French troops remain in the country. The Netherlands also has troops working with the UN mission in Mali. According to the Dutch defense ministry, some 450 Dutch military personnel are taking part in the mission along with four Apache and three Chinook helicopters. Most of the Dutch force is based in Gao, but there are a few officers at the U.N. mission headquarters in Bamako.
While it was still unclear how many Chinese were trapped inside the hotel, China's embassy issued a warning to Chinese businesses and residents to step up safety precautions in the face of "continuous deterioration of security conditions" in Bamako. China has a long history of providing aid and investment to Mali, particularly in the areas of transport infrastructure, construction and mineral extraction.