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Mali Mourns After 19 Killed in Hotel Attack

  • VOA News

Soldiers from the presidential guard patrol outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, in anticipation of the president's visit, Nov. 21, 2015.

Soldiers from the presidential guard patrol outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, in anticipation of the president's visit, Nov. 21, 2015.

Mali began three days of mourning Monday for the victims of Friday's attack on a luxury hotel in its capital, Bamako, that killed 19 people.

Neighboring Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea are also observing mourning periods.

Two gunmen were killed and Malian authorities are searching for at least three suspects they believe are connected to the attack.

A police official said investigators are following several leads in the case and have recovered evidence in the hotel from the more than seven-hour siege.

A representative from northern Mali separatist groups said the assault on the hotel was an attempt to derail its fragile peace accord signed in June with the Bamako government. The hotel where the attack occurred was preparing to host the latest meeting on implementing the pact.

Two West African militant groups - al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliate El Mourabitoune - claimed joint responsibility for the attack. A U.S. defense official called AQIM the "leading suspect" in the assault.

Several Malians were among those killed. Six Russians, three Chinese, two Belgians, a Senegalese, an Israeli and an American were also victims. The American has been identified as international aid worker Anita Datar.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the attack, calling it "appalling" and vowing a "relentless" pursuit of the killers.

Speaking at a summit of regional leaders in Malaysia, Obama said the attack will only stiffen U.S. resolve to combat terrorism.

FILE - In this image made available by Malikahere.com security personnel, right, arrive close to the scene of an attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 20, 2015.

FILE - In this image made available by Malikahere.com security personnel, right, arrive close to the scene of an attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 20, 2015.

‘Everything we can’

In remarks broadcast on state television, Mali President Keita said his government will do everything it can "to eradicate terrorism in Mali."

Keita visited the scene of the attack Saturday and told reporters that Mali cares about people’s lives and “will do everything we can to protect them but everybody also has to be watchful."

“We care about your lives and will do everything we can to protect them but everybody also has to be watchful. I wanted to convey to you my esteem and regards and that's why I stopped here to talk to you," he said.

Keita said he has received full support from France and the international community.

"What happened here illustrated more than ever the solidarity between the people, especially the people of France and the people of Mali. When news broke out about this event, President Hollande called me on the phone right away and assured me of the full support from the French people and from his government and this was positively tested. The international community also, through the United States, MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) has also been at work with us in our country,” said Keita.

FILE - Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita returns to his car after addressing reporters outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 21, 2015.

FILE - Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita returns to his car after addressing reporters outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 21, 2015.

Gunmen went room to room

The Radisson is a popular hotel for foreigners and was reportedly hosting delegates to Malian peace talks. Witnesses say gunmen entered the hotel grounds in a car with diplomatic license plates early Friday morning, then went room to room seeking victims.

"When it started, I thought that it was firecrackers. But it went on and on," one hotel guest told VOA's French to Africa Service. "We heard the alarm from the hotel and I even went out of my room... but I noticed a lot of smoke in the hallway. I went back to my room and the Malian soldiers came, knocked on the door, took a small group of us out."

Malian special forces spent several hours going through the 190-room hotel, rescuing guests and tracking down the gunmen.

U.N. peacekeepers stationed in Mali helped with the operation. A number of French troops and two American military personnel who happened to be in Bamako assisted outside the hotel.

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