Sixth Turkish Airlines crew member has been released
*UPDATES WITH NEW RADISSON BLU STATEMENT, RELEASE OF SIXTH TURKISH AIRWAYS CREW AND GUINEAN SINGER
BAMAKO, Mali – Malian security forces have stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital Bamako where gunmen took 170 hostages, including Turkish Airlines and Air France crew, Malian security officials said Friday.
According to Malian security sources and local television, so far 80 people have been released while 90 others remained trapped as hostages.
However, the hotel management in its statement said: “According to our latest information, 124 guests and 13 employees are still in the building”.
Meanwhile, Turkish Airlines confirmed that six out of seven cabin crew held had been released. The released crew included two pilots, two cabin crew members and a station chief. The Turkish Airline announced that it will be sending a private plane to bring the crew back.
Air France in its statement said that 12 of its crew members, including two pilots who were trapped at the hotel, were now safe. “As a precaution, Air France flights to and from Bamako this Friday Nov. 20 have been cancelled,” the airline added.
The Guinean singer, Sekouba Bambino, was also rescued by Malian forces. “It all started very early this morning when I heard gunshots, which were very strong and violent,” Bambino told reporters.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted that 20 Indians were also trapped inside the hotel.
Chinese diplomatic sources in Mali also told Anadolu Agency that at least seven Chinese nationals were among the hostages.
Some hostages were reportedly set free after gunmen asked them to recite verses from the Quran, a local security source told Anadolu Agency.
Commander Modibo Traore Naman, spokesman of the General Directorate of State Security in Mali, told Mali’s national radio that at least 10 heavily-armed men had attacked the hotel.
Eyewitnesses told Anadolu Agency that the assailants included at least eight armed men and two women armed with Kalashnikovs and grenades.
According to eye-witnesses and local officials, the assailants arrived at the hotel, which is popular with foreigners and UN staff, in a stolen car with diplomatic number plates at around 8.30 a.m. local time (0830GMT), who then opened fire and killed security guards.
Malian Defense Ministry put the toll at five people dead, including three hostages and two security forces.
The assailants have now reportedly entrenched themselves on the seventh floor of the hotel. Malian forces were said to be trying to secure the hotel floor by floor and have rescued dozens of people from the hotel’s ground and second floors, Anadolu Agency’s correspondent at the hotel said.
Assailants also injured at least five people, including a police officer, who was shot in the leg, the correspondent added.
The Al-Mourabitoun militant group, which is said to have ties with Al Qaeda, is reportedly behind the attack, according to eyewitnesses. However, the group has so far not released any statement to claim the attack.
– France sends elite units
Two elite French gendarmerie squads, including 40 elite French police officers from the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group and 10 police officers from the Criminal Research Institute of the National Gendarmerie are on their way to Bamako to assist Malian security forces, the French national gendarmerie tweeted Friday.
French President Francois Hollande also issued a statement. “I want to assure all Malians of our solidarity and support for them and I urge all French nationals who are in the affected area to be vigilant at this time,” Hollande said.
Also, the UN force deployed in Mali, MINUSMA, said in a statement that they too will support the Malian authorities and provide reinforcements to deal with the siege.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita also announced that he will be cutting short his visit to the Chad capital N’Djamena, where he was attending the summit of the Sahel G5 and was now on his way back to Bamako.
Earlier, the Rezidor Hotel Group, operator of the Radisson Blu Hotel, said in a statement: “Two persons have locked in 140 guests and 30 employees. Our safety and security teams and our corporate team are in constant contact with local authorities”.
Automatic gunfire and at least one explosion were heard coming from the 190-room Radisson Blu hotel in the city’s northwestern Hamdallaye neighborhood since early morning.
Gunfire could be heard reverberating around the district since morning as security forces established a cordon.
The U.S. embassy instructed its staff to seek shelter via its official Twitter account.
In August, 13 people, including four UN workers, were killed in an attack on a hotel in the town Sevare, around 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Bamako.
In recent years Mali has been hit by a number of attacks launched by insurgents operating from its northern desert territory.
In 2013, a French-led military operation succeeded in driving fighters out of cities and towns seized a year earlier in the north of the country. France still has troops based in the west African country.