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Popular Hotel In Mali's Capital Taken Over By Gunmen


We are tracking a hostage situation this morning. It's taking place in Bamako, which is the capital of Mali, in West Africa. Two gunmen, we're told, entered a Radisson Blu hotel there and have taken approximately, by one count, 170 hostages, about 30 hotel employees, the rest of them presumably guests in the hotel. The army chief in Mali says that troops have moved into the hotel. They are freeing hostages, we're told, floor by floor. It is, by one count, that about 30 hostages have been freed. And we should add a caution to every number and every bit of information we get out of Mali at this moment. It is all provisional. It is all subject to change. We're going to try to set the landscape here as best we can of Bamako, a city that will be unfamiliar to many Americans. It is very familiar to Niek de Goeij. He works for Catholic Relief Services. He is based in Bamako. Welcome to the program, sir.

NIEK DE GOEIJ: Thank you. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What is the area like around this Radisson Blu hotel?

DE GOEIJ: It's a neighborhood that actually used to be the airport in the city. So it later was turned into a residential and an office neighborhood. So it's very spacious and still large open spaces and then kind of newer office buildings and kind of pockets of residential. So it's rather - yeah, it's sprawling.

INSKEEP: And it's upscale, I would imagine. Radisson Blu is a rather upscale hotel chain in many cities in the world. And...

DE GOEIJ: That's right. Yes, yeah, there's lots of offices and embassies and upscale houses there, yes.

INSKEEP: OK, and what has been happening this morning? What has your experience been?

DE GOEIJ: Well, as it turns out, my new office moved next to the Radisson about a month ago. So I was headed to the office this morning when I received a first security alert from the International Security Organization. And they warned us not to go to the Radisson or the vicinity. So I parked the car on the side of the road and started making phone calls. I'm contacting our team and tried to intercept everybody - over 65 staff - not to go to the office. So most people - we managed to either turn around to go home or even decide to stay home. But around 25, 27 staff, in the end, they were already at the office because they like to arrive early to avoid traffic. And so I went to a different hotel about half a mile away and sat down and started calling everybody to figure out who was where. And the cell phones were being scrambled in the area around the hotel. And so I couldn't get a hold of everybody in the office. But luckily, the internet was still open. And so I could eventually ask people to the top floor of the building and hunker down until we could get them evacuated at around 9:15 this morning, Bamako time.

INSKEEP: So you have people out of your building - your building has been evacuated anyway.

DE GOEIJ: Yes, we have - yeah, yeah.

INSKEEP: And we can presume that other buildings in the area have been evacuated. But this operation is continuing - continuing around the hotel. What is the mood like in the streets where you are?

DE GOEIJ: So around the Radisson there is - I mean, there's obviously huge security force presence at the moment. And the neighborhood itself, you know, I was driving home - not to be exposed in that different hotel - and it was almost like I was driving home on a Sunday afternoon. Almost no traffic. You know, and I started making more phone calls. And then the daycare of my 2-year-old son called and said please come pick him up because we're closing. And we don't know what's going on exactly, so we don't want to keep the children here. So I had to go pick up my son. And, you know, other schools are closed as well. So it's, you know, it's a situation where people are worried.

INSKEEP: That's Niek de Goeij. We spoke with him a short time ago. He's in Mali. He's one of the people experiencing a hostage situation today, which we'll continue covering. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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