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Gunmen Take Over Upscale Hotel In Mali's Capital


We're tracking a hostage situation in Mali today. Two gunmen took over an upscale hotel. The Radisson Blu is in the capital, Bamako. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is following this story from London and joins us now. Good morning.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings, Renee. It's a fast-moving one, this.

MONTAGNE: And so far, what do you know?

QUIST-ARCTON: We're being told the latest is that apparently Malian security forces have been storming the Radisson Blu in Bamako where we're told - we were initially told two gunmen, but it seems it may be more - were holding 170 people hostage. That's guests and Radisson hotel staff. We're told between 10 and 20 may have been freed. And possibly, unconfirmed, Renee, that three of the hostages might have been killed. Apparently, the gunmen arrived in a vehicle early this morning, shouting Islamist slogans and forced their way inside and then were going from floor to floor. That's the latest we know.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about this hotel and why it might be a target.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, it's upscale. There will be lots of foreigners. And this is not the first hostage-taking that we have seen in Mali. In August last year, another hotel, this time in the center of the country in Sevare, was attacked. And five U.N. workers were killed after a siege. And then, in March, in the capital - and this was a first in Mali - a hotel - sorry, a restaurant was attacked. Five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian, were killed. Now, Mali is a former French colony. And French troops moved in early 2013 after Islamist fighters had occupied the north, including Timbuktu. And we're told that the French troops surrounded this hotel in Bamako. So there has been security - there has been insecurity now for three, four years in Mali. And it's a huge problem.

MONTAGNE: It could be a huge problem more than just for Mali, obviously, because these militants - and explain this to us a little - are linked to other militants.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. First of all, it was al-Qaida in the region. And, of course, don't forget Boko Haram in Nigeria. We were told that some Boko Haram fighters were in the north when it was occupied by these Islamist extremists. So it's the whole region that is in flux and many countries, even neighboring Senegal, which is considered stable, worrying about the Islamist threat. But since the Islamists were driven out of the north, they have continued guerrilla tactics and hit-and-run raids, trying to evade the French and Malian troops till this is what we see today. Of course, it's - there's no confirmation of which group has done this hostage-taking, but serious, serious problems for Mali, which has been trying to get back on its feet after a coup d'etat back in 2012.

MONTAGNE: And we will be following this story as it unfolds. Ofeibea, as always, good to talk to you.

QUIST-ARCTON: And you too. Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is following this story from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.