Mali was under a state of emergency on Saturday after a brazen siege by gunmen at a five-star hotel killed 21 people in the heart of the capital, Bamako. A breakaway al-Qaeda faction from the country’s restive north claimed responsibility for the attack. Three days of mourning were announced by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who also clarified the death toll after Malian state television reported late Friday that 27 were dead, along with three attackers.
“This evening, the death toll is heavy and terrible: 21 dead, two [assailants] amongst them, and seven wounded,” Keita said.
Friday’s assault on the Radisson Blu hotel was the latest in a series of deadly raids this year on high-profile targets in Mali, which has battled various rebel groups based in its desert north for years. The attack is a sharp setback for former colonial power France, which has stationed 3,500 troops in northern Mali to try to restore stability.
“There’s a real sense of grief here – how could this have happened?” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque reported from outside the hotel on Saturday. “People here didn’t expect such a brazen attack. It’s one of the most secure areas in Bamako. It comes as a shock as the attackers literally walked into the hotel.” Malian, French and US security forces ended the siege after the gunmen stormed the hotel and took about 170 people hostage.