Bamako, Nov 21, (Agencies): Mali was hunting Saturday for suspects over the jihadist siege at a luxury hotel that left 19 people dead, mostly foreigners, as the president warned that no-one in the world could hide from terrorism.
The government has declared a state of emergency after the bloody nine-hour hostage-taking at the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako on Friday, exactly a week after the Paris massacre.
The Al-Murabitoun group, an al-Qaeda affiliate led by notorious one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, nicknamed the “Uncatchable” or “Mr Marlboro”, claimed the attack.
Gunmen went on the rampage through the hotel from the early morning, shooting in the corridors and taking 170 guests and staff hostage.
The assault, which ended when Malian and international troops stormed the hotel, left 19 people dead as well as two attackers, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said.
The victims included six Russians, three Chinese, two Belgians, an American and a Senegalese.
A Malian military source had said earlier there were at least 27 dead, while at least “three terrorists had been killed or blown themselves up”.
Authorities are now “actively pursuing” at least three people over the attack in the former French colony, one security source told AFP.
Keita, who vowed in an overnight televised address that “terror will not win”, visited the site of the carnage Saturday.
“Nowhere in the world is one safe from these barbarians from another time,” he said, adding that the attackers had “decided to break with humanity”.
Mali will begin three days of national mourning Monday.
Security remained tight around the Radisson and other hotels in Bamako and was also boosted at public buildings and banks.
The attack came as fears mount over jihadist threats a week after 130 people died in the Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group, which also said it had downed a Russian passenger jet in Egypt on Oct 31.
US President Barack Obama and his Russian and Chinese counterparts Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping all condemned the hotel siege.
“This barbarity only stiffens our resolve to meet this challenge,” Obama said of the global terrorist threat.
Mali has been torn apart by unrest since the north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda in 2012.
The Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation launched the following year, but large swathes of Mali remain lawless.
UN chief also condemned Friday’s “horrific terrorist attack,” suggesting the violence was aimed at destroying peace efforts in the country.
The assault began around 0700 GMT, when gunmen pulled up at the hotel and starting shooting their way inside, taking guests and staff hostage.
Malian television broadcast chaotic scenes from inside the building as police and other security personnel ushered bewildered guests along corridors to safety.
Special forces — including Malian, French and two US soldiers who were also in the area — staged a dramatic floor-by-floor rescue, ending the siege after about nine hours.
In an audio recording broadcast by Al-Jazeera television, Belmokhtar’s group claimed responsibility, saying it had worked with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Belmokhtar, one of the world’s most wanted men, was indeed “likely” the brains behind the assault.
The jihadist is also accused of spearheading an attack on an Algerian gas plant in 2013 in which around 40 hostages were killed, most of them Westerners.
The palatial 190-room Radisson, regarded as one of west Africa’s best hotels, is a favourite with entrepreneurs, tourists and government officials from across the world.
Guinean singer Sekouba Bambino Diabate, who was among the survivors, told AFP the gunmen spoke English among themselves.
“They were firing inside the hotel, in the corridors,” Diabate said.
France has more than 1,000 troops in its former colony, a key battleground of the Barkhane counter-terror mission spanning five countries in Africa’s restive Sahel region.
The attack follows a hotel siege in August in the central Mali town of Sevare in which five UN workers and four soldiers were killed.
Five people were also killed in an assault on a Bamako restaurant in March.
Meanwhile, an official source at the Foreign Ministry on Saturday emphatically condemned hostage-taking at a hotel in Bamako in Mali, which left scores of people dead or wounded.
The source reiterated, in a press statement, Kuwait’s firm and principled position against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, whatever its source.
The official source offered condolences to the families and governments of the victims, and wished those injured in the incident swift recovery.
On Friday, 140 guests and 30 hotel employees were taken hostage at Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. Around 80 hostages were freed while at least 20 others, including some from Western countries, were killed.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Saturday strongly condemned an attack and hostage-taking by gunmen on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali yesterday.
OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani described in a press statement the violence against innocent people as a “terrorist act”.
“The attack could only have been carried out by the enemies of peace whose designs are to clearly destabilize Mali and destroy the peace process following the signing on 20 June 2015 in Bamako of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement between the Government and the armed movements in the north,” he said.
Madani reiterated the OIC’s commitment to continue to support the parties signatories to the accord towards its speedy implementation as a way of isolating the terrorist groups.
Voicing sincere sympathy and condolences to the government and people of Mali as well as the families of the victims, Madani appealed to all Malians to rally round the authorities in their efforts to neutralize any act of terrorism and violence that seek to undermine peace, unity, reconciliation and cohesion in their country.
The OIC chief also commended the authorities for their swift and professional response in bringing the situation to an end.
Putin said on Saturday he wanted global cooperation to combat terrorism in the wake of an Islamist militant attack on a luxury hotel in Mali that killed 19 people including six Russians.
Friday’s assault came a week after militants killed 130 people in gun and bomb attacks in Paris claimed by Islamic State, and three weeks after a Russian airliner was downed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula by what Moscow and Western governments say was a bomb, killing 224 all people aboard.
The bloodshed at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali, a former French colony, evoked the problems French troops and UN peacekeepers face in restoring security and order in a West African state that has battled rebels and militants in its weakly governed desert north for years.
Six employees of Russian regional airline Volga-Dnepr were killed, Russia’s foreign ministry said, while six others were rescued.
Putin sent a telegram of condolences to Keita and said “the widest international cooperation” was needed to confront global terrorism, according to a statement by the Kremlin.
On Tuesday, Putin pledged to hunt down militants responsible for blowing up the airliner, as well as intensified air strikes against militants in Syria, after the Kremlin concluded a bomb had destroyed the plane.
Putin and French President Francois Hollande also spoke by phone on Tuesday and agreed to boost coordination of their military actions in fighting jihadist militants in Syria.
Chinese President Xi Jinping condemned the “cruel and savage” attack, whose dead included three Chinese executives of a state-run railway firm.
“China will strengthen cooperation with the international community, resolutely crack down on violent terrorist operations that devastate innocent lives and safeguard world peace and security,” the Beijing Foreign Ministry quoted Xi as saying in a statement on its website.