The family of the Israeli educator killed in a terror attack in Mali on Friday said it was “stunned” by his sudden death at the hands of Islamist gunmen in the African country.
Shmuel Benalal, 60, from Tzur Hadassah near Jerusalem, was among 27 killed on Friday when terrorists stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako and laid siege to the luxury hotel for some nine hours. Thirteen foreign nationals were among the dead, including several Russians, three Chinese, two Belgians, an American and a Senegalese.
At least 10 gunmen raided the hotel, shooting at guests and staff before taking some 170 people hostage.
Benalal, who worked as an educator with the Mandel Foundation charity and as a consultant to various governments around the world, leaves behind a wife and three children.
“We are shocked and in pain. We hope all the relevant bodies are working to bring him back to us as soon as possible,” the family said in a statement, according to Channel 2.
A friend of the victim said Benalal was “a man you couldn’t help but love.
“He tried to help Third World countries, to better their education systems and give hope to young people,” Tzvi Raviv told Ynet.
“I lost a very good friend, he was like a brother,” Raviv said.
Another Israeli citizen, who was not named, was rescued by security forces, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
The siege ended after some nine hours when local and French special forces carried out a dramatic floor-by-floor rescue, according to local television and security sources. The assault was claimed by al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Mourabitoun group, led by notorious one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
Malian television broadcast chaotic scenes from inside the hotel as police and other security personnel ushered bewildered and terrified guests along corridors and across the main lobby.
The palatial, 190-room Radisson, regarded as one of West Africa’s best hotels, attracts entrepreneurs, tourists and government officials from across the world with its luxury spa, outdoor pool and conference suites.
Investigators in Mali were on Saturday hunting at least three people suspected of links to the attacks.