Malian special forces stormed a five-star hotel in the capital Bamako after gunmen attacked on Friday and took 170 people hostage. “They’ve penetrated inside the hotel. The operations are under way,” a police source told Reuters news agency. Attackers shouting “Allahu Akbar” earlier opened fire outside the Radisson Blu Hotel in the centre of the capital before storming it.
Speaking to Al Jazeera by phone from Bamako, business owner Garba Konate said a group of attackers showed up about 0700 GMT. Reports said they drove up in vehicles bearing diplomatic licence plates, thereby gaining easy access. “About 10 gunmen arrived early in the morning and shot all the guards in front of the Radisson,” Konate said.
Another witness said he helped a wounded guard to safety. “I started hearing gunshots coming from the hotel,” said Ibrahim, 28, who works at a cultural centre 40 metres away. “Soon after I saw one of the guards running out, injured… The security guard told me the shooters were so quick that he doesn’t even know how many came in,” he told Al Jazeera. Automatic weapon fire could be heard from outside the 190-room hotel where security forces set up a security cordon.
Witnesses said several hostages were released by the attackers after reciting verses from the Quran. Idrissa Sangare, a local journalist at the scene, told Al Jazeera that Malian special forces, French troops and UN soldiers were working together in front of the hotel.