Two attackers are believed to be responsible for a Friday raid on the Radisson Blu, a luxury hotel in Bamako that was popular with international visitors, Malian authorities said Monday. Both suspected gunmen were killed when Malian, French, and U.S. security forces forced their way into the hotel to try to free the more than 100 hostages that had been held captive by the men for nearly seven hours.
At least 20 people died in the attack, including one American woman, Anita Datar. Datar, a mother from Maryland, worked for an international development agency, specializing in public and reproductive health. Many of the other victims were from overseas, including six Russian airline employees and three Chinese executives from a state-owned railroad company. Six Malians, which included a security-forces member and three hotel workers, were also killed. Seven people were injured during the siege. More than 130 people were safely released in the rescue operation.
Initially, authorities were unsure how many gunmen staged the attack — early speculation had put the number as high as ten. Now Malian officials are fairly confident that just two people charged the hotel, though they have not yet identified the men or their nationalities. Witnesses to the attack say the men entered the Radisson Blu firing their weapons and went into the hotel’s crowded restaurant, where guests were eating breakfast. One suspected gunman allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar,” but the two said little else as they fired on the diners, sources told CNN.
It’s still unclear how the two attackers died; a spokesperson for the U.N. mission in Mali said they’re trying to determine if the men were shot by special forces as they took back the hotel, or if the gunmen killed themselves, possibly with suicide vests. Malian officials put photos of the men on television and posted the pictures of the deceased suspects on a government website in hopes the public could provide information.
Al Mourabitoun, a militant Islamic group with ties to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Yet the Malian government has shot down that claim, saying intelligence indicates that the Macina Liberation Front — a Malian-based jihadist group that just came onto the scene in January 2015 — seized control of the hotel. The Macina Liberation Front tends to agree, as they’ve also claimed they’re behind the attacks, which the group said was in response to French military operations that have targeted Mali’s Islamic extremists over the past two years. “Macina” is named for a 19th-century Islamic empire that reigned in what is present-day Mali, according to the Miami Herald.
But a Mauritanian news outlet allegedly received a voice recording from someone affiliated with Al Mourabitoun, which called the two dead gunmen “heroes of Islam” and named them as Abdel Hakim Al-Ansari and Moadh Al-Ansari. Malian authorities have not verified these claims or the true motive of the attack. Authorities have speculated that the Al Qaeda–affiliated groups may have wanted to flex their muscles in the wake of the devastating Paris massacre that killed 130.
Mali has declared a ten-day state of emergency in the wake of the attacks and on Monday began a three-day period of national mourning.