Gunmen seize hostages at Mali hotel, 20 Indians evacuated
Bamako (Mali), Nov 20: Armed Islamic extremists today stormed a deluxe hotel here locking in 170 people, many of them foreigners, while 20 captured Indians were evacuated.
Three hostages were killed as an unidentified number of gunmen made an early morning raid at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital town and took 140 guests and 30 staff hostage in a hail of automatic gunfire.
The incident came a week after the deadly terror attack in Paris. Though there was no direct link between the two incidents, Mali has been at the centre of French military operations against Islamists in north Africa.
"Good news! All 20 Indians in the hotel in Bamako have been safely evacuated. Our Ambassador in Mali has confirmed," the External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson tweeted.
Employees of a Dubai-based company, these Indians were staying in the hotel permanently, the Spokesperson said in New Delhi. Dozens of hostages managed to escape the early morning raid, but 138 people were trapped in the besieged hotel and the security ministry said at least three people had been killed.
Mali's north fell under the control of Tuareg rebels and jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda in mid-2012 before they were beaten back by a French-led operation in early 2013.
As the drama in Bamako was unfolding, EU ministers agreed at an emergency meeting in Brussels to tighten border controls after the Paris massacre which was orchestrated by a jihadist who had travelled between Syria and France.
Prosecutors in Paris also confirmed that three people had died at a house in a north Paris suburb used as a hideout by suspected attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, including him and his female cousin. Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, and cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen were killed in an assault by anti-terror police on Wednesday.
The identity of the third body has not been disclosed. In Bamako, Malian special forces and police backed by members of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali and French troops were seeking to end the siege where 170 people were initially seized.
Gunmen entered the 190-room hotel compound at around 0700 GMT (1230 IST) in a car with diplomatic plates and automatic gunfire was heard from outside, security sources said.
The hotel's owner, the Rezidor Hotel Group, said 138 people were still inside, with employees of the French and Turkish national airlines as well as Chinese among known to be those staying there.
Three hostages were killed, a spokesman for the security ministry in Mali said, but their identities were being verified."Our special forces have freed hostages and 30 others "Our special forces have freed hostages and 30 others were able to escape on their own," Security Minister Salif Traore told AFP.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is in Chad for a summit of leaders from the Sahel region, is cutting his trip short and flying home, the presidency told AFP.
Around 40 officers from an elite French unit of paramilitary police specialised in hostage situations also left for Mali to assist wih the operation. The US embassy in Mali advised American citizens in the country to shelter where they were, contact their families and monitor local media.
The Radisson attack follows a siege in August lasting almost 24 hours at a hotel in the central town of Sevare in which five UN workers were killed, along with four soldiers and four attackers.
Five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian, were also killed in an attack at a restaurant in Bamako in March, in the first such incident in the capital.
Islamist groups have continued to wage attacks in Mali despite a June peace deal between former Tuareg rebels in the country's north and rival pro-government armed groups.
In a recording authenticated by Malian authorities this week, a jihadist leader in Mali denounced the peace deal and called for further attacks against France, which is helping national forces fight extremists.
In Europe, the 28-member EU bloc has agreed to immediately tighten checks on all travellers, including European nationals, at the external borders of the passport-free Schengen area following the Paris attacks.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that he EU will consider ways to change the Schengen system by the end of year to allow "systematic" controls of EU citizens at the zone's external borders.
The European Commission also called for the establishment of an EU-wide intelligence agency in the wake of the Paris massacre, the deadliest on European soil since the Madrid train attacks that killed about 200 people in 2004.
The Schengen zone -- which allows Europeans to travel without border controls -- has come under scrutiny following revelations that some of the Paris attackers came from Belgium and that Abaaoud appears to have returned from fighting with IS in Syria to orchestrate the attacks.
Prosecutors also revealed today that Abaaoud was caught on CCTV at a Metro station in Paris less than an hour after gunmen began spraying cafes and restaurants with gunfire in the trendy Canal St Martin area.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls admitted yesterday that French authorities did not know how he had managed to get into the country, when he was under an international arrest warrant.