As Malian special forces searched the upper floors of the hotel to capture a pocket of remaining militants, some of the freed hostages and eyewitnesses described what happened as the siege began.
“It was around 7am, they came up to the barrier and starting shooting at the security men there. They shot them all, to shoot into a building. After they entered the lobby, they started shooting in all directions. They killed a white man, they slit his throat and they were chanting Allahu Akbar,” said one man.
One hotel client described the moments leading up to the attack: “I heard gunshots very early in the morning. I thought it was firecrackers or something like that. I didn’t realise it was a hostage situation. It continued and I heard the hotel’s alarm go off. I went out of the hotel for an instant because I really didn’t think there was a hostage situation. I left to go to the (hotel) restaurant and on the way their in the corridor there was a lot of smoke. So I returned to my room to stay there and later the Malian forces came to get us.”
At least one other witnesses said he heard some of the gunmen speaking English between themselves, however it was impossible to determine their origins from their conversation.