Israeli Man Among 20 Killed During Islamist Hotel Siege in Mali

Shmuel Benalal served as an adviser to the local government; another Israeli was rescued after Al-Qaida-linked militants held a luxury hotel hostage.

Malian security officials show a jihadist flag they said belonged to attackers in front of the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, November 20, 2015.
Reuters

An Israeli man was among the 20 people killed Friday after Islamist militants with linkes to Al-Qaida attacked a top hotel in the capital of Mali, and another was among the 170 people rescued after Malian commandos stormed the building and killed two militants.

The Israeli man who died in the attack has been identified as Shmuel Benalal, 60, a father of three from Tzur Hadassah, near Jerusalem. He arrived in Mali 10 days ago.

The lifeless body of a person, in front of the Radisson Blu hotel after an attack by gunmen on the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015.
AP

Benalal was the president of Telos Group, which provides international consulting services in the fields of education and society. Mali's government had asked Benalal's help in curbing religious fundamentalist influences on the country's school system. He had visited the country before.

Benalal was born in Venezuela and made a career in education, first as a teacher and later as a senior professor at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership. Benalal was also involved in Jewish education projects in the Diaspora, and served as the principal of Jewish school in Mexico. He served as a senior adviser to governments around the world, compiling manuals on different aspects of education. Benalal also served as an advisor to governments in Eastern Europe, Latin America and South East Asia.

It was still unclear when his body will be transported to Israel.

A Malian police officer walks in front of the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, November 20, 2015.
Reuters

"This is a huge tragedy, he really was a great man," Benalal's friend, Zvi Raviv, told Haaretz. "If you are looking for someone who is engaged in tikkun olam, in the fight between the light and the forces of darkness, he was the light. A Pleasant man [with] a great sense of humor."

The Foreign Ministry confirmed Saturday that another Israeli man was rescued in the raid. The ministry said it was still looking into the death of an additional Israeli national.

Mali's interior minister says that of the 20 people killed in Friday's attack on a luxury hotel in the capital, 18 were guests, while the remaining two were Malian police.

Salif Traore said Saturday at a press conference that 17 guests were also injured along with three Malian police officers.

Friday's assault on the Radisson Blu Hotel comes a week after deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris killed 130 people. The Mali attack was the latest in a series of deadly raids this year on high-profile targets in the country, which for years has battled Islamist rebels based in its northern desert. 

The government has declared 10-day state of emergency and increased security at strategic points around Bamako.

Chinese President Xi Jinping condemned the "cruel and savage" attack, whose dead included three Chinese executives of a state-run railway firm.

The head of a Bamako hospital told Russian television channel LifeNews that at least two Russian citizens were killed. RIA news agency also reported that Russians were among the dead, citing Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Putin sent a telegram of condolences to Keita and said "the widest international cooperation" was needed to confront global terrorism, according to a statement by the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, Putin promised to hunt down Islamist militants responsible for blowing up a Russian airliner over Egypt in late Ocober, after the Kremlin concluded a bomb had destroyed the plane, killing 224 people. The Kremlin also intensified its air strikes against militants in Syria, 

Putin and French President Francois Hollande also spoke by phone on Tuesday and agreed to boost coordination of their military actions in fighting jihadist militants in Syria.

One American and a deputy from a regional parliament in Belgium were among those killed in the Bamako hotel attack, though French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was not aware of any French nationals killed.

The attack began at 7 A.M. on Friday when gunmen killed guards at the entrance to the hotel and barged inside.

Malian commandos subsequently stormed the hotel and rescued around 170 people, many of whom had been hiding under beds or in side-rooms and who rushed terrified from the building to safety as shooting continued inside.