Armed jihadists have killed at least 18 people in a deadly shooting rampage after taking 170 hostages at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.
Automatic weapons fire was heard on the seventh floor of the 190-room hotel, where it was thought as many as 10 militants roamed through the building, looking for guests and members of staff. All the remaining hostages have since been freed after special forces raided the building.
Among the victims were Belgian diplomat Geoffrey Dieudonne and a French national, with the initial death toll likely to rise.
Six American nationals were rescued alive but several other American remain among the 125 guests and 13 employees, who were unaccounted for after they trapped inside the besieged hotel after the raid.
Three of the gunmen have been killed and the remaining terrorists have been seen heading to the roof as a rescue team, led by US Special Forces, made their way through the building. The al-Qaeda affiliated group Al-Mourabitoun, based in northern Mali, have claimed responsibility for the attack.
Several witnesses have claimed that the gunmen entered through the gates of the hotel in a car with a diplomatic number plate before opening fire with AK-47s and throwing grenades inside the building. The gunmen were also speaking to the hostages in English, according to one freed hostage.
‘I heard them say in English ‘Did you load it?’, ‘Let’s go,’ revealed Guinean singer Sekouba ‘Bambino’ Diabate, who was freed by Malian security forces.
‘I wasn’t able to see them because in these kinds of situations it’s hard. I woke up with the sounds of gunshots and for me, it was just small bandits who came in the hotel to claim something. After 20 or 30 minutes, I realized these are not just petty criminals,’ said Mr Diabate.
The hotel’s head of security, Seydou Dembele, said two private security guards had been shot in the legs in the early stages of the assault.
‘We saw two of the attackers. One was wearing a balaclava. The other was black-skinned. They forced the first barrier,’ Dembele told Reuters.
Within minutes of the assault, police and then soldiers had surrounded the hotel and were blocking roads leading into the neighbourhood.
Belgian diplomat Geoffrey Dieudonne was among two Malians and one French national who were confirmed dead following the siege. Two workers for Turkish Airlines and six Chinese nationals are also thought to be among the missing hostages.
12 members of the Air France crew have been released from the hotel following a raid by Malian special forces while five other Turkish Airlines employees have managed to escape from the hotel, Turkish officials confirmed.
‘The whole of the Air France team is now in a safe place,’ an Air France statement said, indicating it was in ‘constant contact’ with its team of two pilots and 10 cabin crew members.
US Special Forces have reportedly been assisting with the rescue operation to clear the building of hostages and take out the armed jihadis.
The French intelligence service has also been providing invaluable logistical support for the operation and have confirmed they have dispatched a unit of special forces to Bamako.
‘Our special forces have freed hostages and 30 others were able to escape on their own. We have sealed all the exit points of the hotel, so be assured none of the hostage takers will be able to escape.’ Security Minister Salif Traore told AFP.
Read more: dailymail.co.uk