On Friday morning, a group of armed extremists took over the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, taking 170 staff and guests hostage. Malian, French, American and European Union forces quickly responded, storming the hotel and helping to secure the safe release of most of those held. Media reports vary as to the number of confirmed casualties, but it appears that at least 20 people are dead. Among those lost is a Belgian diplomat.
Bamako’s Radisson Blu hotel is a preferred hotel of many expatriates as it is centrally located near several government ministries and the U.S. Embassy. It’s not uncommon for diplomats, security personnel and international officials visiting the capital to stay there — some for extended periods of time.
Why was the hotel attacked? It’s likely because the Radisson was the site of a meeting of the Comité de Suivi de l’Accord d’Algiers, a monitoring group that meets to ensure that the terms of the Algiers Agreement — a peace deal signed earlier this year between the Malian government and Tuareg separatists from the country’s north — are being respected. Al Murabitoun, a jihadi extremist group with ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed credit for the attack shortly after the siege ended. Neither al Murabitoun (which is also known as al Qaeda in West Africa) nor AQIM are party to the peace agreement, and it is likely that this attack was undertaken with the intent to undermine the Algiers deal.
We’ll have several posts on the situation in Mali as more details emerge. For now, here’s a list of resources we’re finding useful in making sense of today’s events in Mali:
- The International Crisis Group has a Q&A with their Senior Sahel Analyst Jean-Hervé Jezequel about the raid. Jezequel’s initial reflection is that the attack could be related to either: (1) local dynamics of possible spoilers trying to derail the Malian peace process or (2) the global context “in which Islamic State (IS)’s name has come up.”
- A series of Mali Briefings from African Affairs provide context for the attacks. Thanks to our friends at African Affairs and Oxford University Press, ungated access to these briefings is now available. Susanna Wing’s “Briefing Mali: Politics of a Crisis” and Caitriona Dowd and Clionadh Raleigh’s “The Myth of Global Islamic Terrorism and Local Conflict in Mali and the Sahel” will be of particular interest to TMC readers.
- Columbia PhD student Andrew Lebovich wrote a useful backgrounder on al Murabitoun, its founder Mokhtar Belmokhtar, and shifting alliances among Sahel-based terror groups for the al-Wasat blog.
In addition to these resources, we’ve compiled a list of Mali experts, journalists, and analysts on Twitter to follow to keep abreast of events.
- Madina Thiam, @thiamm
- Susanna Wing, @susannawing
- Andrew Lebovich, @tweetsintheME
Hard to imagine the timing is coincidence for Bamako attack - lots of dips in town for 6th meeting of Comité de Suivi of Algiers accords.— Andrew Lebovich (@tweetsintheME) November 20, 2015
- Greg Mann, @grgrymann
- Joe Penney, @joepenney
- Tommy Miles, @tommymiles
- Phil Paoletta, @philinthe_
- Sahelien.com @sahelien_com (French)
- RP Medias, @rpmedias (French)
Like with previous events that have emerged on the continent, we recommend you follow Africa is a Country (@africasacountry), as they aggregate quality information on all things Africa-related.
Finally, we wrote a post in April 2014, “What happened in Mali?” that provides some background on earlier events.