At least 22 people, including 19 hostages and three attackers have been killed in the ongoing siege of the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako, Malian security officials said Friday.
The dead include a French and a Belgian national, local security sources told Anadolu Agency. Dozens of people were also injured.
Malian Minister of Security Colonel-Major Salif Traore said the gunmen holed up inside the hotel were now no longer holding any hostages.
"The attackers are still inside the hotel, [but there are] no more hostages," Traore told reporters.
A spokesman for the hotel, however, declined to confirm or deny whether all guests and employees inside had been accounted for. "The situation is still evolving," he said.
Earlier, Malian security forces backed by French Special Forces stormed the hotel where gunmen took 170 hostages, including Turkish Airlines and Air France crews since early morning.
Some media reports suggested that even U.S. Special Forces were "assisting" the Malian forces; however, the U.S. embassy in Bamako did not post any statement to back that claim.
Turkish Airlines said that all seven of its cabin crew members, including two pilots were now in safety. The Turkish flag carrier earlier announced that it will be sending a private plane to bring the crew back.
Air France in its statement said that 12 of its crew members, including two pilots who were trapped at the hotel, were now safe. "As a precaution, Air France flights to and from Bamako this Friday Nov. 20 have been cancelled," the airline added.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted that 20 Indians were also trapped inside the hotel.
Chinese diplomatic sources in Mali also told Anadolu Agency that at least seven Chinese nationals were among the hostages.
The Guinean singer, Sekouba Bambino, was also rescued by Malian forces. "It all started very early this morning when I heard gunshots, which were very strong and violent," Bambino told reporters.
Some hostages were reportedly set free after gunmen asked them to recite verses from the Quran, a local security source told Anadolu Agency.
Commander Modibo Traore Naman, spokesman of the General Directorate of State Security in Mali, told Mali's national radio that at least 10 heavily-armed assailants had attacked the hotel.
Eyewitnesses told Anadolu Agency that the assailants included at least eight armed men and two women armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles and hand grenades.
The siege of the hotel, which is popular with foreigners and UN staff, began at around 8.30 a.m. local time (0830GMT), local security sources said. The assailants have reportedly now entrenched themselves on the seventh floor of the hotel.
Malian forces were trying to secure the hotel floor by floor and have rescued dozens of people from the hotel’s ground and second floor, Anadolu Agency's correspondent at the hotel said.
Assailants also injured at least five people, including a police officer, who was shot in the leg, the correspondent added.
The Al-Mourabitoun militant group, which is said to have ties with Al Qaeda, is reportedly behind the attack, according to eyewitnesses. However, the group has so far not released any statement to claim the attack.
France sends elite units
Two elite French gendarmerie squads, including 40 elite French police officers from the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group and 10 police officers from the Criminal Research Institute of the National Gendarmerie were en route to Bamako to assist Malian security forces, the French national gendarmerie tweeted earlier on Friday.
French President Francois Hollande also issued a statement. "I want to assure all Malians of our solidarity and support for them and I urge all French nationals who are in the affected area to be vigilant at this time," Hollande said.
Also, the UN force deployed in Mali, MINUSMA, said in a statement that they too would support the Malian authorities and send in reinforcements.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita also announced that he will be cutting short his visit in Chad's capital N'Djamena, where he was attending the summit of the Sahel G5 and was on his way back to Bamako.
Earlier, the Rezidor Hotel Group, operator of the Radisson Blu Hotel, said in a statement: "Two persons have locked in 140 guests and 30 employees. Our safety and security teams and our corporate team are in constant contact with local authorities." Later, it said in a statement that 124 guests and 13 employees were still inside the hotel.
Automatic gunfire and at least one explosion were heard coming from the 190-room Radisson Blu hotel in the city’s northwestern Hamdallaye neighborhood since early morning.
Gunfire could be heard reverberating around the district since morning as security forces established a cordon.
The U.S. embassy instructed its staff to seek shelter via its official Twitter account.
In August, 13 people, including four UN workers, were killed in an attack on a hotel in the town Sevare, around 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Bamako.
In recent years Mali has been hit by a number of attacks launched by insurgents operating from its northern desert territory.
In 2013, a French-led military operation succeeded in driving fighters out of cities and towns seized a year earlier in the north of the country. France still has troops based in the west African country. In August, 13 people, including four UN workers, were killed in an attack on a hotel in the town Sevare, around 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Bamako.
Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.