BAMAKO — At least 21 people have been killed after suspected Islamist activists stormed a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital and took scores of visitors and staff hostage.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced the hostage death toll at 19 and said seven people were injured in the attack. He said two militants had also kicked the bucket.
“Tonight the death toll is heavy,” Mr Keita said on state television, declaring a 10-day state of emergency and three days of national mourning.
US president Barack Obama condemned what he called the “appalling” jihadist attack.
“This barbarity only stiffens our resolve to meet this challenge,” he said during a visit to Malaysia, referring to the global threat of extremist violence.
A total of 170 people, including many foreigners, were inside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako when the gunmen, driving a car with diplomatic plates, broke through security.
The hostages were held for several hours before Malian commandos made their move to free the hostages.
“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 following the stand-off.
A UN official earlier said peacekeepers searching the hotel made a preliminary count of 27 bodies, but the figure was revised down by the president’s office.
An African Jihadist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Al-Murabitoun, a group based in northern Mali and made up mostly of Tuaregs and Arabs, posted a message on Twitter saying it was responsible, as well as a video message that was broadcast by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television.
“We the Murabitoun, with the participation of our brothers from Al-Qaeda in the Islam Maghreb (AQIM), claim the hostage-taking operation at the Radisson hotel,” said a man’s voice in an audio recording.
A security source said the gunmen had dug in on the seventh floor of the hotel as special forces advanced on them.
US and French special forces were on site to help in the rescue operation.
State television showed footage of troops in camouflage fatigues wielding AK47s in the lobby of the Radisson Blu. In the background, a body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
Mr Traore said the gunmen burst through security at the hotel entrance at 7:00am local time, spraying the area with gunfire and shouting “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is greatest” in Arabic.
Former French leader Sarkozy held over Libyan funding inquiry
PARIS — Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was held in custody on Tuesday and questioned by magistrates investigating whether late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi helped finance his 2007 election campaign, an official in the French judiciary said.
It is the second major judicial investigation to fall on the 63-year-old, who served as president from 2007-2012. He already faces trial on separate charges of illicit spending overruns during his failed re-election campaign in 2012.
A lawyer for Sarkozy could not immediately be reached for comment. The former president has dismissed the Libya allegations as “grotesque” and a ‘crude manipulation’.
France opened an inquiry into the Libya case in 2013, after reports by French website Mediapart based on claims by a Franco-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, who said he had transferred 5 million euros ($6 million) from Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi to Sarkozy’s campaign director.
Months after he took office in 2007, the French leader came in for criticism for hosting a state visit by Gaddafi during which the Libyan leader pitched his trademark Bedouin-style tent next to the Elysee Palace.
Gaddafi’s first visit to a Western leader in decades, which was accompanied by the signing of several business deals, came after Sarkozy helped get five Bulgarian nurses accused of infecting children with HIV released from jail in Libya.
Sarkozy was later one of the chief advocates of a NATO-led military campaign that resulted in Gaddafi’s overthrow and killing at the hands of rebel forces in 2011.
French judicial procedure allows for investigators to hold a person for questioning for up to 48 hours, after which the magistrates must say whether they have grounds for turning a preliminary inquiry into a full investigation.Follow @gorkhapost