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More Than 130 Survive Hostage Situation At Mali Hotel

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Exactly a week after the Paris attacks, another horrific scene unfolded today, this time in the West African country of Mali. This morning, gunmen stormed the upscale Radisson Blu Hotel in the capital city of Bamako. They held 170 guests and staff numbers hostage. Security forces eventually freed the hostages but not before more than 20 people were killed, including two of the attackers. Joining me now is Katarina Hoije. She's a freelance journalist based in Bamako. Thanks for joining us.

KATARINA HOIJE: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Tell me what the situation is right now.

HOIJE: Well, at the moment, the military operations are over since a couple of hours ago. Forensic teams have entered the hotel and also paramedics, who are helping to bring out the bodies of those who, unfortunately, were killed in the hostage situation. I would say that the situation has calmed down compared to earlier this morning. The hotel staff and security services are just going through the hotel to make sure that there's no gunmen left.

SHAPIRO: And you have been reporting from there in front of the hotel since this morning. Tell us about some of what you saw today.

HOIJE: It started early this morning when we arrived at the hotel. Of course, some of the roads were blocked with the heavy military presence of Mali and international forces. And then we started hearing gunfire with heavy explosions at the hotel at around 4 in afternoon local Bamako time, which we now was the Malian forces entering the hotel. And they were, in turn, supported by French and international forces.

And as the Malian forces moved forward, we were able to follow them towards the hotel and in the hotel lobby, where it was complete chaos - shattered glass all over and a heavy military presence. Now, when things have calmed down and you've been able to walk through the hotel, you see rooms with furniture turned over, unmade beds, drink cans lying littered along the corridors and also bullet holes.

SHAPIRO: Do we know who is responsible for this attack?

HOIJE: Well, the group called Al Mourabitoun, an Islamist extremist group based in Mali, have taken responsibility for the attack.

SHAPIRO: Al Mourabitoun, an Islamist group in Africa with links to al-Qaida rather than to ISIS.

HOIJE: Yes. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a notorious for al-Qaida leader who split from that group a couple of years ago to form Al Mourabitoun, might then be involved. Or his name is, of course, notorious in the region. He was among those who occupied northern Mali in 2012. Today, Al Mourabitoun basically has two factions. It's not clear which faction is involved in this attack.

SHAPIRO: This part of Mali, the capital city Bamako, especially this neighborhood, had been relatively peaceful. How are people in the city feeling today?

HOIJE: People are, of course, shocked, saddened. People have been saying throughout the day that this is not Mali; this is not Bamako. This is an attack at one hotel in a city that has so much more. And I think that's what people are going to keep on repeating over the coming days.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Katarina Hoije in Bamako, Mali. Thank you very much for joining us.

HOIJE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.