Mali hotel attack: Islamist group says it shares responsibility

(CNN)Assailants with guns blazing on Friday attacked a hotel hosting diplomats and others in Mali’s capital, leaving at least 21 people dead and trapping dozens in the building for hours, officials in the West African nation said.

Malian and U.N. security forces launched a counterattack at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako and escorted guests out. By late afternoon, no hostages were believed to remain in the building, army Col. Mamadou Coulibaly told reporters.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a written statement that the attack had ended.

Twenty-one people were killed, said Olivier Salgado, a spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali. At least six people injured in the attack have been hospitalized, Mali Health Minister Marie Madeleine Togo told state broadcaster ORTM.

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France said it dispatched to Mali an elite paramilitary group trained in hostage rescue and counterterrorism operations. President Francois Hollande, speaking to reporters in Paris, pledged to provide “necessary support” to help Mali resolve the situation.

U.S. special operations forces were helping “move civilians to secured locations as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen,” said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command.

The attack comes just a day after Hollande praised his troops for successfully fighting Islamists in the former French colony. It also comes a week after France suffered its own high-profile terror attack: Shootings and suicide bombings, claimed by the terror group ISIS, that killed 130 people in and near Paris.

‘I saw … bullets’

Michael Skapoullis, who lives near the Radisson Blu, told CNN he was using the hotel’s gym Friday morning when he noticed fellow exercisers leaving. He hadn’t heard anything because he was listening to music, but he decided to follow.

He walked to a door leading to the hotel lobby, and that’s when he saw something was wrong.

“When I opened the door, I saw, on the floor, bullets,” Skapoullis said.”So I gently closed the door, and … I went back into the gym” and eventually left the complex.

Another man who’d been in the hotel told ORTM that he heard gunshots that he initially thought were fireworks.

“Then we heard the hotel alarm. … I walked out into the hallway, and I saw a lot of smoke,” said the man, whom ORTM didn’t name. “Then I went back into my room to stay there.

“Later, the Malian forces came to get us. … Thank God we are now healthy and safe.”

Diplomats, airline employees were at hotel

As news of the attack spread, media outlets and officials from a number of nations reported that some of their citizens were in the hotel or had been freed. A summary:

One U.S. citizen died during Friday’s terrorist attack at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, a senior State Department official told CNN. “We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased. … Out of respect for the family, we have no further information at this time.”

“About a dozen” Americans were rescued, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

Geoffrey Dieudonne, an administrative counselor for Belgium’s Parliament, died as a result of the attack, Parliament said. Details about his death weren’t immediately clear; he was in Bamako as part of a three-day French-language convention.

Seven Algerians, including six members of an Algerian diplomatic delegation, are safe after being trapped in the hotel, the state-run Algerie Presse Service reported. The Algerians were freed during a counterassault by U.N. and Malian forces.

Twenty Indian nationals, working for a Dubai-based company and staying at the hotel long-term, were safely evacuated, Vikas Swarup, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said on Twitter.

Twelve Air France crew members who were staying at the hotel were safely extracted, the airline tweeted. Air France has canceled all its flights to and from Bamako as a precaution, the airline said.

Turkish Airlines said at seven of its employees were staying at the hotel, and all had been freed by the afternoon.

At least seven Chinese guests were among the hostages, Chinese media reported. At least four of them had been rescued, state-run CCTV reported, citing a source at the Chinese Embassy in Mali.

Two German nationals were able to leave the hotel, Germany’s Foreign Office said.

August attack

Mali: The long, troubled desert road ahead

Friday’s attack comes about three months after 12 people, including five Malian soldiers, were killed in a hostage situation and ensuing battle at a hotel in Sevare in central Mali in August.

The soldiers stormed the hotel to end a daylong siege that started when gunmen raided the hotel after attacking a military site nearby, witnesses said.

At the time, the Malian army said the attackers were affiliated with the Macina Liberation Movement. Human Rights Watch has described the group as Islamists who commit “serious abuses in the course of military operations against Mali’s security forces.”

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