Bamako (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Around 140 guests and 30 employees, including seven Chinese citizens, have been taken hostage at the luxury Hôtel Radisson Blu in the Malian capital of Bamako.
The raid by suspected Islamist militants targeted the upmarket hotel, located just west of the city centre, in a neighbourhood that is home to government ministries and diplomats.
Jihadis are hold up with the hostages on the seventh floor. Local sources have reported the sound of gunfire in the corridors. Four people are said to be dead.
In a statement, Malian security forces said that jihadi gunmen stormed the 190-room hotel around 7 am.
Automatic weapons fire could be heard from outside the building. According to some witnesses, the attackers entered the hotel compound in a car that had diplomatic plates.
The hotel’s clientele includes diplomats, western business people, and UN peacekeepers.
The incident could be connected with the Paris attacks because of the presence of French experts.
Security sources said that the al Qaeda-linked al-Murābiṭūn group was behind the attack. The extremist group has not yet issued any statement claiming responsibility.
It is unclear how many gunmen were involved. Some sources said that two gunmen carried out the attack; others claim that a 12-member commando was involved.
In his recent address to the nation, French President François Hollande mentioned Mali. French forces played a decisive role in recent years in fighting local fundamentalist groups. For most of 2012, Islamist fighters, some with links to al-Qaeda, occupied the northern part of the country.
One source also said that at least seven Chinese citizens had been taken hostage; another said ten.
A Chinese guest at the hotel sent a message via the WeChat mobile app saying that he heard a lot of gunshots outside his hotel room around 6.30 am, with a few more added later. Eventually, the Internet connection was cut.
The Chinese Embassy in Mali posted a statement on its website, acknowledging the raid by Malian security forces in the hotel, and urging Chinese citizens in the country to stay indoors.
Last November, for the first time in its history, China sent a 170-member combat force to Mali to join in the UN’s international peacekeeping mission.
This represents a major shift in Beijing’s approach. In the past two decades, China had focused on providing logistical support and medical personnel.