Special forces stormed a luxury hotel in Mali on Friday after gunmen seized guests and staff in a hostage crisis that left at least 18 people dead, a week after the extremist rampage in Paris.
Many of the 170 hostages initially trapped by the suspected militants in the besieged Radisson Blu hotel in the Malian capital Bamako were foreigners and a Belgian regional assembly official was reported to be among the dead.
About nine hours after the attack began in a hail of automatic gunfire, the country’s security minister said there were no more hostages after Malian special forces backed by US and French troops stormed the building.
“They currently have no more hostages in their hands and forces are in the process of tracking them down,” Security Minister Salif Traore told a news conference.
A foreign security source said 18 bodies had been recovered while a Malian military source said two attackers had been killed, but it was not clear if they were among the 18.
There was no immediate confirmation of any link to the devastating Paris attacks last Friday that left 130 people dead, but Mali has been at the centre of French military operations against extremists in north Africa.
Gunmen had entered the 190-room hotel compound in Bamako at around 0700 GMT 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 170 guests and staff were initially trapped, with employees of the French and Turkish national airlines as well as Indians and Chinese among known to be among those staying there.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was in Chad for a summit of leaders from the Sahel region, was cutting his trip short and flying home, the presidency told AFP.
US special forces helped rescue at least six Americans from the hotel, while French paramilitary police specialised in hostage situations were also in Mali to assist.
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.
Extremist 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 militant leader in Mali denounced the peace deal and called for further attacks against France, which is helping national forces fight extremists.