Al Qaeda group claims credit for attack on hotel in Mali’s capital

Al Murabitoon, an al Qaeda group that operates in West Africa, has claimed responsibility for this morning’s suicide assault on a luxury hotel in Bamako, Mali. Al Murabitoon claimed it executed the hotel siege in conjunction with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa.

The al Qaeda group claimed the Bamako attack in a statement that was sent to Al Jazeera. The operation was carried “in coordination with the Sahara Emirate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” it claimed.

Al Murabitoon said its fighters would release hostages held at the hotel for “the liberation of the mujahideen in Bamako’s prisons.” Additionally, it demanded that Malian and French forces stop “the oppression of the people of northern Mali.” The jihadists threatened to execute the hostages if its demands are not met and said it would release a complete statement on the attack at a later time.

Today’s attack began when jihadists, purportedly driving a vehicle with diplomatic plates, penetrated the Radisson Blu’s security perimeter and then shot their way into the hotel. Once inside, the gunmen are sad to have searched the hotel “floor by floor, room by room” according to Reuters. The attackers were heard yelling “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest,” in Arabic while fanning out through the hotel.

The jihadists are said to have taken 170 hostages, including number of American, French, Chinese, and Indian citizens. An estimated 80 hostages were freed after they were able to correctly recite verses of the Koran. The tactic of separating Muslims from other hostages is one that is often used by al Qaeda to avoid killing Muslims.

Malian special forces as well as US Special forces are said to have assaulted the hotel in an effort to free the hostages. Six Americans are said to have been freed by US Special Forces.

Al Murabitoon is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran African jihadist who is openly loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri and has denounced the Islamic State. Belmokhtar and his followers have been behind several spectacular attacks in West Africa over the past several years, including the January 2013 suicide assault on the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria, and the May 2013 suicide assaults in Niger that targeted a military barracks and a uranium mine. Scores of people were killed in these attacks.

Belmokhtar and his unit are listed by the US as a specially designated global terrorist and a Foreign Terrorist Organization, respectively.

The Sahara branch of AQIM is led by Yahya Abu Hammam, who is listed by the US as a specially designated global terrorist for playing a “key role in the group’s ongoing terrorist activities in North Africa and Mali.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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  • Will Matthews says:

    Belmokhtar is dead though isn’t he?

  • John says:

    Doubtful. Belmokhtar have been declared dead almost as many times as Izzat al Douri.

  • Arjuna says:

    MBM has not been neutralized. We hoped US planes got him in Libya but AQIM denies this and he’s as slippery as they come.
    I keep seeing reports of US “Chief of Mission” personnel being present in the hotel. Think that means the COM himself, Amb Folmsbee, was there or expected to be there. This says he was there at the “moment of the attack”. I always thought they wanted to kidnap Stevens.
    I remember In Amenas was timed for the visiting execs. Don’t think this was a kneejerk op or in any way related to Paris. AQ have their own watches.

  • Arjuna says:

    They apparently snuck in with two SUVs from the American Embassy, using the dip-plated vehicles as cover. Slippery snakes! You bet they were trying to kill Americans (more than just poor Anita, RIP). Then they went to target the French air crew. Are we now going to have to harden every hotel in the Muslim/developing world to Inman standards? Good grief. Get in the boom-boom room! Would you like a side of 7.62 with your steak?


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