At least three people have reportedly been killed after gunmen took 170 people hostage at a luxury hotel full of foreign guests in Mali’s capital Bamako.
Lieutenant Colonel Diarran Kone told the Associated Press news agency that three deaths had been confirmed after terrorists stormed the Radisson Blu hotel on Friday morning.
At least 170 hostages were believed to have been locked in their rooms, though some 20 were freed later in the morning and others managed to escape with the help of local security forces.
Malian special forces later entered the hotel after sources said the gunmen had launched a shooting rampage in the 190-room hotel and automatic weapons fire could be heard from outside the building.
A group of up to 10 men armed with guns and gredades stormed the hotel in an area west of the city centre near government and diplomatic buildings, local media said.
A member of the hotel’s security detail said two private security guards had been hurt when the attack was launched at about 7am.
Police surrounded the hotel and are blocking roads leading into the neighbourhood.
The affiliation of the gunmen is not known, but Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said they shouted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great” in Arabic before firing on guards and taking hostages.
Later, a security source said some of the hostages – including those able to recite verses of the Koran – had been freed.
Three of seven Turkish Airlines staff members caught in the hotel escaped, a Turkish government official said.
Rezidor Hotel group, which runs the Radisson Blu, said the attackers initially “locked in” 140 guests and 30 employees.
“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 re-instate safety and security at the hotel,” the company added in a statement.
The US and French embassies have asked their citizens to stay indoors wherever they are in Bamako.
The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said several Chinese citizens were among the people trapped inside the building.
An Islamist insurgency in 2012 saw much of the north of the west African country occupied by fighters, some with links to al-Qaeda.
The militants were driven out by a French-led military operation, but there have been violent incidents since then.
An Islamist group claimed responsibility for an attack on a nightclub popular with western vistors in Bamako in March this year. A gunman killed five people including a French and a Belgian man.