Mali special forces have stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako and freed more than 80 hostages. But suspected Islamist militants still hold more than 100 guests and staff following brazen daylight attack.
Mali's state-run broadcaster reports that special forces had stormed a luxury hotel, freeing many hostages held by suspected Islamist gunmen. Friday's attack has targeted one of the African country's most popular lodgings for foreign business travelers.
"Attack on the Radisson hotel: special forces have launched an assault the first hostages are freed, roughly 80," Mali's state broadcaster ORTM flashed across television screens.
But scores remain trapped inside the Radisson Blu, the Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group said in a statement. "According to our latest information 125 guests and 13 employees are still in the building," it said.
Brazen 7 a.m. morning attack
Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 10 gunmen had stormed the complex shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards, throwing grenades and taking around 170 guests and staff hostages as they moved from floor to floor inside the 190-room hotel.
A security official told the Reuters news agency that initially some of the hostages had been freed after apparently proving their Muslim faith by reciting verses from the Koran.
But at least three hostages have already been killed, the Malian security ministry said as government troops cordoned off the hotel in the center of the city.
Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in neighboring Chad. Operations are underway to neutralize the attackers and free the hostages.
Witnesses said ambulances were rushing to the hotel as a military helicopter flew overhead. The United Nations mission said it was sending armed reinforcements.
So far at least three hostages had been killed and two private security guards were wounded in the early stages of the attack.
US special forces are also on site assisting Mali security services, a Pentagon spokeswoman told AFP.
"Special Operations Command Forward-North and West Africa personnel are currently assisting hostage recovery efforts at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako," Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza said. "US forces have helped move civilians to secured locations, as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen."
Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking, the hotel chain said
Many nationalities taken hostage
French President Francois Hollande saying French nationals were among those present in the hotel and pledged his government's full support to end the crisis.
"An assault has been launched and we will help ensure with all our means on site that the release of the hostages can be achieved," Hollande said. "We have to, once again, keep going and show our solidarity with a country that is a friend, Mali."
Two German nationals had been released from the hotel, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the DPA news agency while on a trip to Zambia.
Several Chinese tourists were among those trapped inside the high-rise building, reported the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
The Turkish government said five of seven Turkish Airlines employees staying at the hotel had managed to exit the building.
India's foreign ministry says its nationals were also being held by gunmen. "Our ambassador has confirmed that 20 Indians are held hostage at the hotel but they are alive," foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told AFP.
Algeria's foreign minister said seven of his country's nationals - mostly diplomats - were freed when special forces stormed the hotel, the APS news agency reported.
Popular conference venue latest site of deadly attack
On its website, Radisson Blu describes its Bamako hotel as "one of the city’s most popular conference venues" and a retreat "a bit west of the central bustle." The hotel's operator, Rezidor Hotel Group, said in a statement that it was assisting authorities.
"Our safety and security teams and our corporate team are in constant contact with the local authorities in order to offer any support possible to reinstate safety and security at the hotel," it said.
Friday's shooting in the Radisson complex follows a hotel siege and hostage-taking in the central Malian town of Sevare in August, when four soldiers, five UN workers and four attackers were killed. And in March, masked gunmen opened fire inside a Bamako restaurant frequented by foreigners, killing five people.
Security sources said the gunmen were jihadists who had entered the hotel compound in a car that had diplomatic plates
Peace deal in June
Despite a peace deal signed in June this year, large parts of Mali remain beyond the control of government and foreign forces. France still has about 1,000 troops stationed in the country.
In an audio recording released in October, the leader of the Ansar Dine jihadist group Iyad Ag Ghaly levelled treason accusations at rebel groups who signed the peace deal in Algiers.
Ghaly also referrred to January's fatal jihadist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, claiming "the Crusader has crossed all bounds."
Malian security experts authenticated the tape on Monday in the wake of last Friday's string of deadly attacks in Paris.
jar, ipj/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)