BAMAKO, Mali — Malian security forces were hunting “more than three” suspects on Saturday after a brazen assault on the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital that killed 20 people, most of them guests, officials said.
Speaking to reporters briefly after visiting the scene, Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said the attack underscored the global threat posed by Islamic extremists, especially coming just one week after teams of attackers in Paris killed 130 people while targeting a stadium, a concert hall and cafes and restaurants.
“These people have attacked Paris and other places. Nowhere is excluded,” Keita said, adding that Mali would still remain open to the world. “Mali is not a closed area and it never will be.”
Malians awoke to a state of emergency after Friday’s attack in Bamako that was claimed by an extremist group formed by notorious Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar. The statement from the Al-Mourabitoun (The Sentinels) group said the assault was in cooperation with al-Qaida’s “Sahara Emirate”.
“The search has started and I can tell you that we are looking for more than three people at the moment,” said Maj. Modibo Nama Traore, describing the hunt for suspects who may have been involved. Two of the attackers died in the assault.
On Friday morning, heavily armed assailants shouting “God is great!” in Arabic burst into the complex and opened fire on guards before seizing dozens of hostages at the hotel popular with foreigners, sparking a more than seven-hour siege by Malian troops backed by U.S. and French special forces.
The 20 dead included 18 hotel guests and two Malian gendarmes, Interior Minister Salif Traore said at a press conference Saturday, crediting the response of Malian forces for limiting the number of fatalities caused by gunmen who were “determined to die”.
“The quick intervention of the Malian forces allowed us to avoid the worst,” he said, adding that 17 guests were injured along with three police officers.
As the siege dragged on Friday, hostages trickled out slowly as security forces worked to secure the hotel floor by floor. At least one guest reported the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Quran as proof of his Muslim faith before he was allowed to leave. The hotel was being guarded by national police on Saturday, said Sgt. Idrissa Berthe, one of the officers posted at the scene which was still strewn with broken glass from shot out windows.
“This morning, investigators have begun to arrive to do their work,” he said. — Associated Press
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