Armed men attacked a hotel in Bamako and took 170 people hostage last Friday, November 20. According to the latest counts, at least 21 guests and staff are dead, as well as at least three attackers. According to reports, gunfire erupted around 7 a.m. at the Radisson Blu hotel, when attackers breached the facility's security system. Soon thereafter, Malian soldiers, assisted by Minusma (UN) forces and French GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) forces, stormed the building to free the hostages, killing all attackers. An investigation is now underway to identify the assailants.
Mali has declared a state of emergency, while the group Al-Mourabitoun—an ally of Al-Qaeda—has claimed responsibility for the attack. The assault in Mali comes one week after the murderous attacks on Paris by ISIS (or Daesh as it is called in Arabic), which left 130 dead and more than 350 injured.
Hostages in Shock
Mali's hostage situation ended late in the day, after a siege that lasted several hours.
Ali Yazbeck, a patisserie chef at the hotel, was injured by two bullets—one in the neck and the other in the back. In a hospital bed, after being rescued, he described what it was like to be a hostage: after one attacker wearing a turban shot him, he took cover in an office, where he encountered two waitresses:
Il nous a retrouvés et a tiré sur Awa, qui a été tuée, et sur Sarah, qui a été blessée. Il n’a rien dit, mais après il est reparti dans la cuisine, où il a pris un morceau de viande, qu’il s’est fait griller avant d’ouvrir le gaz dans toute la cuisine
He found us and fired at Awa, who was killed, and Sarah, who was injured. He said nothing, but afterwards he went back into the kitchen, where he took a piece of meat and grilled it for himself before turning on all the gas pipes in the kitchen.
Baïda and Penda Cissé run a cigarette stand at the street corner perpendicular to the Radisson’s entrance. Baida gives this account of the events:
Un homme, teint noir, en tenue militaire, tire sur les gardes de l’hôtel. Quand j’ai vu un premier garde, puis un second à terre, je suis parti me mettre à l’abri.
A dark-skinned man in a military uniform was shooting at the hotel guards. When I saw first guard, and then a second, on the ground, I took cover.
Acts of Bravery
In an extremely tense situation, several acts of bravery and cool thinking helped to prevent further loss of life, as illustrated by the calm leadership of the maitre d'hôtel, Tamba Diarra.
Tamba Diarra described his experience during the attacks, explaining what he did to protect the hostages’ lives:
J'ai rencontré un des jihadistes, raconte le maître d'hôtel d'une voix posée, mais hésitante. Il avait un képi, une chemise à manches longues bleue, un pantalon bleu. Il a posé son képi sur le bar, puis il m'a poussé en tirant partout. Pour intervenir efficacement dans le bâtiment, les forces d'intervention ont besoin de connaître la configuration des lieux. Je les guide porte par porte, couloir par couloir, étage par étage, afin qu'on puisse libérer tout le monde. Quand un client appelait de sa chambre, on lui donnait le mot de passe “Tamba”. Quand on avait un appel, je disais aux militaires : “Allez à tel étage, dites au client “Tamba”, et là le client sort.
I encountered one of the jihadists […]. He was wearing a kepi, a long-sleeved blue shirt, [and] blue trousers. He put his kepi on the bar and pushed me, firing shots everywhere. To mount an effective response in the building, the intervention forces needed to know the layout of the premises. I guided them, door by door, corridor by corridor, floor by floor, so that everybody could be released. When guests called from their rooms, they were given the password “Tamba”. When there was a call, I told the soldiers: “Go to such-and-such floor, say the word ‘Tamba’ to the client, and then the guest will come out”.
Malian special forces also responded with commendable efficiency, demonstrating great professionalism and managing to save the vast majority of the hostages. On the Internet, a photograph of a Malian soldier carrying a hostage on his back to safety has become a viral sensation. Writing on Facebook, Boukary Konaté in Bamako shared his admiration for such heroism:
Que le monsieur au dos m'excuse, mais je veux juste exprimer ici, mon admiration pour ce militaire malien qui fait non seulement la tache pour laquelle il s'est engagé dans l'armée, mais aussi un acte d'humanisme, de solidarité…. Les mots me manquent
Apologies to the gentleman being carried, but I just want to express my admiration here for the Malian soldier who performed not only the task for which he joined the army, but also an act of humanity and solidarity…. I’m at a loss for words.
Most people in Mali have already returned to their ordinary economic activities, ignoring the risk of more extremist attacks and the national state of emergency (which is still in force). In the following video, Mrs. Djero, a fish vendor, explains why the attacks will not affect her everyday life:
Le Mali est un pays pauvre. Si on s’arrête de travailler, même un seul jour, on ne peut pas vivre. L'attaque nous a choqué au plus haut point mais il faut continuer à vivre.
Mali is a poor country. If we stop working—even for just one day—we have nothing to live on. We are deeply shocked by the attack, but we have to go on living.