Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Mayhem in Mali

The attack on a hotel in Bamako appears principally a muscle-flexing exercise on Al-Qaeda’s part, otherwise shaken by the attention ISIS is getting after Paris, writes Haytham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

The gunmen approached the hotel at 7am on 20 November. They must have known from earlier surveillance that this was the moment the hotel guards changed shifts. Just as the night shift was waiting to be replaced by a new team, the militants opened fire and stormed their way into the Radisson Blu Hotel, a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

After a seven-hour ordeal, including deadly shooting as hotel guests were having breakfast, and hostage taking, nearly 28 people were killed in the attack, including three gunmen.

It is not clear whether the gunmen killed themselves or were shot dead by Mali security forces that rushed to the scene, combing the hotel one floor at a time, then finally freeing the hostages.

According to one eyewitness, the gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar,” as they fired at tables of people who were having breakfast.

The Islamist militant group Al-Mourabitoun said it carried out the attack in cooperation with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group said it was punishing the government for its “aggression” in northern Mali.

According to media reports, the hotel had 140 guests and 30 staffers at the time of the attack. The assailants, whose exact number is yet to be determined, arrived at the scene in a car bearing diplomatic license plates.

Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who rushed back home, interrupting an official visit to Chad, told reporters that the attack underlined the global threat posed by Islamic militants.

The attack came just one week after ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) assailants killed 130 people in Paris, also attacking similar soft targets: a stadium, a concert hall and restaurants.

Analysts believe that AQIM and its ally Al-Mourabitoun were eager to remind the world of their presence, feeling eclipsed by the media attention ISIS had gained at their expense.

Mali declared a 10-day state of emergency and a three-day period of mourning, during which flags will be flown at half-mast.

Russia said that six of its nationals died in the attack.

According to RT, the Russian news channel, two US Special Forces operatives who happened to be attending a meeting in a nearby building helped save six of their nationals.

The US Department of Defense said that it sent 25 US troops who were in Bamako to the scene to help evacuate civilians while Mali forces combed the hotel.

France also rushed 40 security operatives, specialised in hostage taking, to the scene.

Mali is receiving help from French and UN troops in fighting Islamist extremists linked to AQIM, who set up base in northern Mali.

France sent thousands of troops in 2013 to help the government push back the militants. And the UN has created a peacekeeping mission to reinforce the government’s efforts to enforce law and order.

The international effort helped drive the militants from cities, but they grouped in the desert areas, where they continued to stage hit-and-run operations.

The leader of Al-Mourabitoun, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is wanted in several countries, and the US has posted a $5 million bounty on his head. He shot to fame after his group carried out an attack on an Algerian gas facility in January 2013, which left 39 people dead.

Belmokhtar was targeted in a US airstrike in Libya in June 2015, but although Libyan officials said he was killed, the US never confirmed his death.

Ahmed Ban, an Egyptian researcher specialised in Islamic movements, said that the rivalry between Al-Qaeda and ISIS is behind the attack.

“Al-Qaeda, which has been weakened in the Sahara, is telling its followers that it is alive and well. This is why it is waging sensational operations with no significant political impact otherwise,” he said.

Omar Abdel-Fattah, from the African Studies Institute in Cairo University, said that the political vacuum in Africa is what allows militant movements to survive. He blames neoliberal policies followed by most African governments for furthering discontent on which militants feed.

“Such incidents demonstrate the need to close down any satellite stations the extremists use to fill the vacuum,” Abdel-Fattah added.

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