At least 27 dead after Islamists seize luxury hotel in Mali’s capital


At least 27 people were reported dead on Friday after Malian commandos stormed a luxury hotel in the capital Bamako with at least 170 people inside, many of them foreigners, that had been seized by Islamist gunmen.

The former French colony has been battling Islamist rebels for several years, and the jihadist group Al Mourabitoun, allied to al Qaeda and based in the deserts of northern Mali, claimed responsibility for the attack in a tweet.

By late afternoon, ministerial adviser Amadou Sangho told the French television station BFMTV that no more hostages were being held.

But a U.N. official said U.N. peacekeepers on the scene had seen 27 bodies in a preliminary count, and that a search of hotel was continuing. It was not clear whether any of the gunmen, who were said to have dug in on the seventh floor of the hotel as special forces advanced on them, were still active.

State television showed footage of troops in camouflage fatigues wielding AK47s in the lobby of the Radisson Blu, one of Bamako's smartest hotels and beloved of foreigners. In the background, a body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

The peacekeepers saw 12 dead bodies in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor, the U.N. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. He added that the U.N. troops were still helping Malian authorities search the hotel.

A man working for a Belgian regional parliament was among the dead, the assembly said.

Minister of Internal Security Colonel Salif Traoré said the gunmen had burst through a security barrier at 7 a.m. (0200 ET), spraying the area with gunfire and shouting “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is great” in Arabic.

BURSTS OF GUNFIRE

Occasional bursts of gunfire were heard as the assailants went through the seven-floor building, room-by-room and floor-by-floor, one senior security source and a witness told Reuters.

Some people were freed by the attackers after showing they could recite verses from the Koran, while others were brought out by security forces or managed to escape under their own steam.

One of the rescued hostages, celebrated Guinean singer Sékouba 'Bambino' Diabate, said he had overheard two of the assailants speaking in English as they searched the room next to his.

“We heard shots coming from the reception area. I didn't dare go out of my room because it felt like this wasn't just simple pistols – these were shots from military weapons,” Diabate told Reuters by phone.

“The attackers went into the room next to mine. I stayed still, hidden under the bed, not making a noise,” he said. “I heard them say in English 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'.”

The raid on the hotel, which lies just west of the city center near government ministries and diplomatic offices, came a week after Islamic State militants killed 129 people in Paris, raising fears that French nationals were being specifically targeted.

Twelve Air France  flight crew were in the building but all were extracted safely, the French national carrier said.

A Turkish official said five of seven Turkish Airlines staff had also managed to flee. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said three of 10 Chinese tourists caught inside had been rescued.

PRESIDENT RETURNS

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in Chad, his office said.

Northern Mali was occupied by Islamist fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, for most of 2012. They were driven out by a French-led military operation, but sporadic violence has continued inMali's central belt on the southern reaches of the Sahara, and in Bamako.

One security source said as many as 10 gunmen had stormed the building, although the company that runs the hotel, Rezidor Group, said it understood that there were only two attackers.

Al Mourabitoun has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Mali, including an assault on a hotel in the town of Sevare, 600 km (375 miles) northeast of Bamako, in August in which 17 people including five U.N. staff were killed.

One of its leaders is Mokhtar Belmokhtar, blamed for a large-scale assault on an Algerian gas field in 2013 and a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa.

In the wake of last week's Paris attacks, an Islamic State militant in Syria told Reuters the organization viewed France's military intervention in Mali as another reason to attack France and French interests.

“This is just the beginning. We also haven't forgotten what happened in Mali,” said the non-Syrian fighter, who was contacted online by Reuters. “The bitterness from Mali, the arrogance of the French, will not be forgotten at all.”

Hostage taking under way at the Paris Bataclan concert


People are being held hostage at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris after several shots were fired, French news channel BFM TV reported on Friday, and a BBC editor tweeted that about 60 people were inside.

Shooting at the Bataclan began one hour into the concert of a California rock group called Eagles of Death Metal, BFM TV said, adding that one or two people came in and began shooting in the air. (Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

More information about the shooting attacks can be found here.

Hostages held in Sydney cafe, Islamic flag seen in window


Hostages were being held inside a central Sydney cafe where a black flag with white Arabic writing could be seen in the window, local television showed on Monday, raising fears of an attack linked to Islamic militants.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was convening a meeting of the cabinet's national security committee for a briefing on what he called a hostage situation in Australia's commercial capital.

Australia, which is backing the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is on high alert for attacks by radicalised Muslims or by home-grown fighters returning from the conflict in the Middle East.

Dozens of heavily armed police surrounded the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, home to the Reserve Bank of Australia, commercial banks and close to the New South Wales (NSW) state parliament.

Live television footage showed patrons inside the cafe standing with their hands pressed against the windows. A black and white flag similar to those used by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria was also visible.

NSW Police tweeted: “A police operation is underway in Martin Place, Sydney's CBD. People are advised to avoid the area.”

A couple of hundred people were being held back by cordons and the fire brigade's hazardous unit was on the scene, a Reuters witness said.

The Reserve Bank of Australia, near the cafe, said staff had been locked down inside the building, and were all safe and accounted for.

Local media reported that the nearby Sydney Opera House had been evacuated after a suspicious package had been found. A staff member at the world-famous venue said she was still in the building but declined to comment further and police said they were still trying to confirm the incident.

Trains and buses were stopped and roads were blocked in the area, with train operators saying there had been a bomb threat at Martin Place.

Traders in currency markets said the hostage news may have contributed to a dip in the Australian dollar, which was already under pressure from global risk aversion as oil prices fell anew. The local currency was pinned at $0.8227, having hit its lowest since mid-2010 last week.

In September, Australian anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and days later, a teenager in Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.

Must-see TV: Sitcoms, sex top Fall lineup


It’s September at last, when summer reruns and C-level realty shows cede their timeslots to returning favorites and new contenders. This fall’s offerings include Jewish connections galore, on and off camera; prolific producers J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman are just a few of the series’ creators. Littman is behind “Hostages,” the CBS drama based on a concept producer Alon Aranya brought over from Israel about a female surgeon ordered to kill the president or her family will die. Fittingly, returning favorite “Homeland,” also based on an Israeli series, plans to shoot the last few episodes of its season in Israel. As for Jewish stars, these are some of the familiar faces you’ll see. 


JAMES CAAN

James Caan in “Back in the Game.” Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC

Those who know James Caan from gritty dramatic fare like “The Godfather,” “Misery” and more recent turns on TV’s “Las Vegas” and “Magic City” might be surprised that he’s starring in a sitcom. “Unless there are 12 people dead on page 20, I don’t usually get the job,” he quipped. But having occasionally waded into comic territory with lighter fare like “Elf,” Caan said he is “really excited about laughing a little bit” as a curmudgeonly ex-baseball player and coach whose daughter and grandson move in with him in ABC’s “Back in the Game.”

The sports milieu is a comfortable fit for Caan, who played football in college at Michigan State University and coached his son’s Little League team. He also was known as “The Jewish Cowboy” when he worked the rodeo circuit. “In many ways, my whole life has revolved around sports,” he said, and he’s got the scars to prove it. “I’ve had 15 operations, screws in my foot, just had my elbow sewn back together from non-Jewish activities, choices that were not very Yiddish.” 

But if being an athlete was outside the Jewish norm, becoming an actor was even more unusual for a kid from a tough Bronx neighborhood. “I don’t think any actors came out of there,” he said. “That was an even bigger convention to break.”

“Back in the Game” premieres Sept. 25 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.


ANDY SAMBERG

Andy Samberg in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews/FOX

It should come as no surprise that Andy Samberg was voted class clown in school. “I got kicked out of class a lot for not being able to keep my mouth shut,” said the former “Saturday Night Live” mischief-maker, who stars as smart-ass, hotshot detective Jake Peralta in the Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

“Jake goes into the crime scene acting like a maniac, but he’s great at catching bad guys. He’s serious when it comes to solving crimes, so when he’s being a jackass, you can forgive him,” observed Samberg, who is comfortable with the “irreverent and silly vibe” of the show. “To show up and be handed 25 great jokes is the best feeling you can have as a comedian,” he said.

The Berkeley native is from a long line of funny Jews. “I grew up in a funny family with a funny father, and his family was funny. We were always joking around and cracking each other up,” Samberg remembered. He wasn’t raised in an observant home. “I’m much more into the heritage and the history of it and remembering everybody that came before me more than the religious part” of Judaism, he said.

Samberg admits to missing his friends at “Saturday Night Live,” particularly the “camaraderie and the intensity of coming up with something on a Thursday or Friday and have it be on television on Saturday.” He’d be glad to make a guest appearance. “I’ll go back to host anytime they want me to.”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine” premieres Sept. 17 at 8:30 p.m. on Fox.


LINDA LAVIN

Linda Lavin in “Sean Saves the World.” Photo by Chris Haston/NBC

Best known as the titular waitress on the long-running sitcom “Alice,” and later as Nana Sophie on “The O.C.,” and more recently, for movie roles in “The Back-up Plan” and “Wanderlust,” Linda Lavin returns to the small screen this fall as Sean Hayes’ pushy, meddling mom, Lorna, in NBC’s “Sean Saves the World.”

“It’s great to be back. I love being in this town with a job,” said Lavin, who was lured by the “smart, sophisticated” pilot script for the show about a divorced gay father and his relationships with his mother, teenage daughter and co-workers. “The generational differences are a source of comedy,” she added

Although the family’s religion has not yet been established on the series, Lavin finds that being Jewish, as well as female, “gives me a unique perspective on life. I bring what the script and tonality demands, whether it’s Jewish, European or New York humor. As an actor, I’m not the same in everything I do, but I bring myself to everything I do.”

“Sean Saves the World” premieres Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. on NBC.


SETH GREEN

Seth Green plays stoner Eli Sachs in “Dads.” Photo by Joseph Llanes/FOX

The premise of the Fox sitcom “Dads” is simple: A pair of best friends and business partners, played by Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi, have their lives disrupted when their fathers (Peter Reigert, Martin Mull) move in with them. Green, as single stoner Eli Sachs, and Riegert, as his grumpy dad David, in a case of art imitating life, are Jewish. “Jewish negativity, guilt, pessimism — there will be a lot of that stuff,” said executive producer/writer Alec Sulkin, adding, “The other pair is as WASPy as they come.”

Green, (“Family Guy,” “Robot Chicken”), whose diverse comic influences include Mel Brooks and Don Rickles, finds depth in the played-for-laughs father-son arguments. “The relationship is so caustic. We say whatever we’re feeling. We may not be solving anything, but there are moments of tenderness and connection where we’re trying to find a way to each other despite so much acquired damage,” he said. 

Thankfully, Green’s relationship with his own father, Herb, a retired teacher, is drama-free. “My dad and I get along really well,” he said, adding, “I’ve definitely acquired more sympathy for my parents as I’ve gotten older and see things from a different perspective. I don’t know that I’m in a hurry to have kids, but I would do my best not to completely foul them up.”

“Dads” premieres Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. on Fox.


LIZZY CAPLAN

Lizzy Caplan in “Masters of Sex.” Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/SHOWTIME

Since starting out in the television cult favorite “Freaks and Geeks,” Lizzy Caplan has worked steadily in TV and film in everything from “True Blood,” “Mean Girls,” “Cloverfield,” “Party Down” and “127 Hours” to a role on “New Girl” last year. Her latest role is a distinct departure from what she’s done before, and certainly her most provocative: sex researcher Virginia Johnson in the Showtime drama “Masters of Sex.” 

Based on the book of the same name by Thomas Maier, the series co-stars Michael Sheen as William Masters, Johnson’s boss and subsequent research partner and lover. Calling Johnson “by far the most layered and the toughest” character she’s played to date, Caplan says she was drawn to the contradictions in a 1950s woman and single mother with a progressive attitude toward sexuality. “She wasn’t tied down by society’s moral rules,” she said.

Lamenting the sexual double standard that still exists six decades later, Caplan feels “fortunate that I wasn’t raised in an ultra-religious household where I was told to abstain from sex and think of my body as evil.” A Los Angeles native, she did attend Hebrew school, Jewish camp, had a disco-themed bat mitzvah and went on an ulpan group trip to Israel at 16. She started acting professionally shortly thereafter.

While she’d been “quite comfortable” in the comedic, contemporary niche she’d carved out for herself, Caplan is relishing the opportunity to step out of that comfort zone. “I needed something like this,” she said, “I’m hoping that the audience will be accepting of me trying something new.”

“Masters of Sex” premieres Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.


JAMES WOLK

James Wolk stars in “The Crazy Ones.” Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS

After memorable turns in the dramas “Political Animals” and “Mad Men,” James Wolk is putting his comedy and improv theater background to use in the CBS workplace sitcom “The Crazy Ones,” opposite Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar as father-and-daughter owners of an advertising firm. 

Although he says it’s “nearly impossible” to keep a straight face in scenes with Williams, Wolk is relishing his role as young creative genius Zach Cropper. “He’s flying by the seat of his pants. He’s like Peter Pan — he never wants to grow up.” 

Wolk, who grew up in the Detroit area in a Reform Jewish home, was bar mitzvahed and has fond memories of celebrating the Jewish holidays and of one Jewish food in particular. “Detroit has amazing challah,” he said.

While Zach Cropper isn’t Jewish, Wolk plays a doctor named Noah Bernstein in the romantic comedy “There’s Always Woodstock,” due out later this year. 

Travel plans are also on his future agenda. “I’d like to make a trip to Israel at some point,” he said. “I never took my Birthright trip.”

“The Crazy Ones” premieres September 26 at 9 p.m. on CBS.


Other offerings of note: The PBS documentary series “Genealogy Roadshow” includes the story of a Latina from Texas hoping to verify her Sephardic Jewish ancestry (Oct. 14). Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays reporter Jonathan Harker in NBC’s “Dracula” (Oct. 25), and Ben Rappaport joins the cast of CBS’ “The Good Wife” as a fourth-year associate who’ll join the new law firm Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) are secretly forming (Sept. 29).