By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Around 7 a.m. local time, terrorists attacked and seized scores of hostages in a luxury hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. Witnesses to the attack stated that the attackers arrived in a vehicle bearing diplomatic plates. Hotel Raddison is used by UN diplomatic staff and is popular with tourists making the hotel a perfect target to gain international attention. Soft targets such as hotels have been frequently targeted by terrorists worldwide because of lax security and the potential for taking numerous hostages. In this case, security wasn’t much better, but the quick reaction of Malian special forces certainly helped in bring the attack to a quick resolution. Bamako did request the assistance of French special forces in the country that has been helping with the overall security situation and U.S. special forces played a role as well. As of 3:59 Eastern, CNN is reporting as at least 21 dead.
The perpetrators of this attack are thought to be a West African jihadist group affiliate of al-Qaeda named al-Mourabitoun and though they claimed responsibility it hasn’t yet been independently verified. Mali was the subject of a coup attempt three years ago in 2012 and by 2013 a collective of Taureg and several jihadist groups had declared northern Mali to be an independent nation under their rule. The collective failed due to political differences between the players and a French-led military intervention that eventually freed the north. Though the intervention was successful, the security situation in Mali remained tenuous. Indeed, Mali has been suffering from a spate of terrorist attacks over the last year. It’s certainly accurate to say that international support of the government in Bamako is still necessary.
Speculation was quick to suggest that the recent attacks in Paris served as inspiration for this recent hotel siege. However, there are several points that may belay that claim. Because the Raddison Blu was frequently used by UN and other foreign diplomatic staff, there was an extra layer of security albeit a limited layer. Knowing this, would have required prolonged surveillance of the target by the attackers. Furthermore, the attackers used diplomatic plates of their vehicle meaning that they took the added risk of securing the plates or the entire vehicle for this operation. Such a risk is rather high considering that the acquisition of the plates or vehicle could’ve unraveled the plot before it began.
Hotels are difficult to protect because of the coming and going of the guests, cleaning staff, and food services. Indeed hotels are busy places and many guests certainly do appreciate the extra security, but they don’t want to be inconvenienced by it either. The price tag associated with extra security details are an prohibiting factor, but with international hotels being so frequently targeted, it is a necessary measure. As we’ve seen over the past two decades, hotels are still soft targets and remain easily exploited. Terrorists will continue to hit these targets for the foreseeable future as a result.