An American citizen is among more than two dozen dead at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, after terrorists stormed the building during breakfast time.
About a dozen U.S. citizens were rescued, said the State Department. The hotel said about 140 guests and 30 employees were there at the time.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and an associated Islamist group in the region, Al-Mourabitoun, have taken joint credit for the attack.
Dressed in ordinary street clothes, they reportedly arrived at the hotel in a vehicle with diplomatic plates, shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they stormed the front lobby firing automatic weapons, and let some hostages go if they could recite Quranic verses.
The U.S. Embassy has lifted is directive for American citizens to shelter in place, but “continues to urge all U.S. citizens to minimize movement around Bamako and be vigilant of their surroundings,” State Department press secretary John Kirby said.
Members of the U.S. military who “happened to be at the site at the time,” he said, “chipped in to assist first responders in moving people to secure locations” but were “not involved in the actual operation to go against the terrorists.”
Kirby said the terrorists did not drive a vehicle with U.S. diplomatic plates, but there was a car with U.S. diplomatic plates in front of the hotel at the time.
“It was there for completely other purposes driven by government employees. And the drivers and passengers were able to escape without harm,” he said.”…There are sometimes diplomatic personnel that are on temporary duty to one or another missions around the world and it — often times — hotels serve as lodging. It was lodging. And they need transportation to and from to get to work and that kind of thing, and so this was a passenger van used that was used to help transport people to and from as they needed to do their business. But they were — as far as I know, they were there simply because of lodging.”
The State Department did not identify the American who was killed.
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning the “senseless assault on innocent people.”
“We thank the first responders, especially Malian Forces and U.N., French, and U.S. security personnel, including U.S. Diplomatic Security, who assisted with evacuating hostages and transporting them to safe locations,” Kerry said.
“Our embassy in Bamako is making every effort to account for American citizens in the city, and in the days ahead we stand ready to provide support the Malian government in the investigation. All those responsible for these recurring terrorist attacks must be held accountable.”
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price issued a general statement commending “the bravery of the Malian, French, United Nations, and U.S. security personnel who responded to the situation and prevented even worse loss of life.”
“The United States stands with the people of Mali and will remain a steadfast partner to the Government of Mali and others in the region fighting the terrorist groups that seek to undermine Mali’s efforts to build a durable peace following the crisis in 2012 and 2013,” Price said. “We are prepared to assist the Malian government in the coming days as it investigates this tragic terrorist attack.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stressed that “the United States, France, the international peacekeeping force, and the Malian government must step up our critical fight to counter terrorist threats in this region of Africa.”
UPDATE 12:30 a.m. EST: The murdered American has been identified as Anita Ashok Datar, 41, of Takoma Park, Md. She was a former Peace Corps volunteer, worked in international development including fighting the spread of HIV, and has a young son.
“We are devastated that Anita is gone—it’s unbelievable to us that she has been killed in this senseless act of violence and terrorism. Anita was one of the kindest and most generous people we know,” her family said in a statement released by the State Department. “She loved her family and her work tremendously. Everything she did in her life she did to help others – as a mother, public health expert, daughter, sister and friend. And while we are angry and saddened that she has been killed, we know that she would want to promote education and healthcare to prevent violence and poverty at home and abroad, not intolerance.”