Gunmen who raided a Malian hotel shouted “Allahu akbar” as they sprayed bullets on tables of people who were gathered for breakfast, a witness said.
The attackers did not say a word to anyone as they opened fire Friday morning, employee Tamba Couye said.
They shot at “anything that moved” as terrified patrons dashed for cover all over the hotel, he said.
By the time Malian and U.N. security forces rushed in and ended the siege hours later, bodies were scattered across the floors of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako.
At least 19 people were killed in the attack, said Olivier Salgado, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in the nation.
In addition, two attackers died, he said, but it’s unclear whether security forces killed them or they blew themselves up.
Employee: They shot at everyone
Couye was at the restaurant when attackers barged in.
“They started firing at the tables,” he said. “They walked through the hotel door and started to shoot at everybody. Then they returned to the restaurant and closed its doors.”
He hurriedly evacuated employees through an exit door as chaos erupted.
“One of the attackers was yelling “Allahu akbar!,” he said.
“These people started shooting. They were shooting at everybody without asking a single question. They were shooting at anything that moved.”
The United Nations said two or three gunmen attacked the hotel.
Michael Skapoullis said he was using the hotel’s gym when he noticed fellow exercisers leaving. Though he was listening to music and hadn’t heard anything, he followed.
He walked to a door leading to the hotel lobby, and knew something was wrong.
“When I opened the door, I saw, on the floor, bullets,” he said. “So I gently closed the door.”
He fled back to the gym, and eventually left the hotel using a side door.
The hotel was hosting delegations attending peace talks. The former French colony has been battling Islamist extremists with the help of U.N. and French forces.
About 140 guests and 30 employees were there when the attack began, the Radisson chain said.
The hotel in an upscale neighborhood in Bamako is a hub for international guests, and is a 15-minute drive from the main international airport.
Mali has declared a 10-day state of emergency and three days of national mourning in which flags will be flown at half-staff.