At least three people have been killed as gunmen throwing grenades seized 170 hostages at a luxury hotel in the Mali capital this morning.
The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group which runs Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako have confirmed the assailants had “locked in“ 140 guests and 30 employees.
Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel this morning shouting “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great” in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages.
Three hostages have been killed, although a Malian army commander later said about 20 hostages had been released.
An eye witness at the hotel who gave his name as Tamba Diarra said that the attackers used grenades in the assault.
The UN mission are currently sending security reinforcements and medical aid to the scene, while ambulances have been seen rushing to the hotel as a military helicopter flew overhead.
People in the area ran for their lives along a dirt road as a soldier in full combat gear escorted them to safety.
A French official said French citizens were in the hotel but could not give more details because their number and identities were not confirmed, while the US embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an “ongoing active shooter operation” at the hotel.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV report that about 10 Chinese citizens were sheltering inside their hotel rooms. The Chinese embassy was in phone contact with them and all were reported safe, according to the report. All are employees of Chinese companies working in Mali.
Five Turkish Airlines personnel were among the freed hostages, Turkey’s state-run news agency said.
Any number of Muslim extremist groups could be behind the attack, which unfolded a week after the attacks on Paris that killed 129 people.
A handful of jihadi groups seized the northern half of Mali in 2012 but were ousted from cities and towns by a French military intervention.
Following a military coup in 2012, Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali, prompting a French-led military intervention in early 2013 that forced the extremists from northern towns and cities, though the north remains insecure and militant attacks have extended farther south this year.
In March masked gunmen shot up a restaurant popular with foreigners in Bamako, located in Mali’s south, killing five people.
About 1,000 French troops remain in the country. The Netherlands also has troops working with the UN mission in Mali. According to the Dutch defence ministry, 450 Dutch military personnel are taking part in the mission along with four Apache and three Chinook helicopters.