Mali attack: Survivor recalls his 'very lucky' escape as Bamako death toll reaches 21

'I tried to ... hold my breath. I think that’s what saved me. The man brushed my lips with his fingers, checking. Then he left'

Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, right, with Senegal’s president Macky Sall at the hotel
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, right, with Senegal’s president Macky Sall at the hotel

The door of the lift would not shut because so many terrified people were frantically trying to get in. Then came a burst of fire hitting Ali Yazbek in the neck. As he fell he caught a glimpse of the man trying to kill him and saw a young face, wearing a baseball cap and smiling.

Mr Yazbek, lying on the ground, was resigned to being finished off. Instead, the young man began mowing down the screaming people trapped inside the lift. Only after he was fully satisfied with his work did he turn back to the 30 year old pastry chef lying on the ground, and let off another round.

“I could feel the bullets brushing my face. Then I sensed he was coming towards me. I tried to be absolutely still and hold my breath. I think that’s what saved me, the man brushed my lips with his fingers, checking. He left, I am very lucky.”

Mr Yazbek inched to a corner and lay there for hours until Malian security forces, backed by French and Americans, stormed the building. He recalled an extraordinary scene: “The lift we tried to use to get away was at the back of the kitchen. I saw two of the men with guns come back into the kitchen, one was dark skinned the other one was quite fair.

“There was a break in the shooting. They were relaxed. One of them got a piece of meat out of freeze, I was wondering what he would do with it. Then I watched him grill and eat it.”

Mali terror attack

The death toll from the attack on the Radisson Bleu hotel in Bamako is now 21, after two more of the injured died overnight from their wounds. The Malian government, who had earlier claimed that just two people carried out the attack and both had been killed, subsequently confirmed that more insurgents were involved, and that three had escaped.

Hospitals had been kept on alert with the possibility that the insurgents on the loose may carry out further attacks. Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb ( AQIM) and an affiliated group, al-Mourabitoun, had claimed responsibility for the raid which had begun with the taking of 170 hostages; they have threatened that their war would continue

I tried to ... hold my breath. I think that’s what saved me. The man brushed my lips with his fingers, checking. Then he left

&#13; <p>Ali Yazbek</p>&#13;

Mr Yazbek, receiving treatment in hospital, thought that more than a dozen gunmen had taken part in the assault. He was the latest person to maintain that some of the gunmen spoke English, following the same claim made by the well known Guinean singer Sekouba “Bambino” Diabete, who was at the hotel, and two others, including a security guard. There is no history of British jihadists joining insurgencies in Francophone West Africa, although a few are in the ranks of Boko Haram in Nigeria. A larger number are with Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Fourteen different nationalities were caught up in the siege, among them was American Terry Kemp, a contract employee with the US State Department, who was about to leave for the American embassy when the attack took place.

“I ran up the stairs and these guys with guns were running behind me firing. Then they threw a grenade. There was this massive explosion and threw myelf into the dining room, and went under a table as fast as I could ”he recounted. “They were firing over the table, shell casings were coming down and hitting me. I just knew I was dead. But they never looked under the table.”

Fellow American Anita Datar, also staying at the Radisson,whose former partner was once an aide to Hilary Clinton, died in the attack. A US embassy car which had arrived to pick her up around the same time as the shooting began had led to reports that the jihadists had used a vehicle with a diplomatic number plate to gain access to the hotel.

“ They came on foot, from over there, I saw them,” a security guard said pointing towards an unpaved road coming up to the hotel. “ Two of them had holdalls they must have been the grenades which were used. Another two were at that corner , they were firing towards us. At the same time we heard firing from inside the hotel. So there were quite a few of them taking part, and some of those bastards are still out there.”

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