Hostage-taking in Mali hotel 'over'
The hostages who were being held by gunmen during a shooting rampage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday, had all been freed, after a day-long siege by Islamic militants.
Malian national television broadcaster ORTM, citing security officials, said 18 bodies already had been at the hotel and that no more hostages were being held.
A source with Mali's UN mission said at least 12 bodies had been recovered from the hotel.
It was not immediately clear whether attackers were still alive inside the hotel.
Gunfire continued into the late afternoon, and Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said operations were continuing.
An extremist group that two years ago split from al-Qaida's North Africa branch claimed responsibility for the attack.
Hundreds of hostages were held
Security sources said the gunmen were "jihadists" who had entered the hotel compound in a car that had diplomatic plates.
Malian soldiers, police and special forces were on the scene as a security perimetre was set up, along with members of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali and the French troops fighting extremists in west Africa under Operation Barkhane.
Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages.
The Rezidor Hotel Group, the US-based parent company of Radisson Blu, said two people were holding 170 people hostage, including 140 guests and 30 employees.
Malian security services were earlier able to evacuate around 80 hostages, including two women, who said they had seen the body of a fair-skinned man lying on the floor of the hotel.
|Malian security forces evacuate two women from an area surrounding the hotel [Habibou Kouyate/AFP/Getty Image]|
The US Embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an "ongoing active shooter operation" at the hotel in Bamako.
People in the area ran for their lives along a dirt road as a soldier in full combat gear them to safety.
A top official at the French presidency said French citizens were in the hotel but could not give more. The official spoke anonymously in line with presidency policy.
Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said that four Belgians were registered at the hotel but their whereabouts were unknown.
Citing Chinese diplomats in Mali, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that about 10 Chinese citizens were sheltering inside their hotel rooms.
The 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.
The website of the official China Daily newspaper also cited an unidentified witness as saying one Chinese citizen had been rescued.
The UN mission said it was sending security reinforcements and medical aid to the scene.
Ambulances were seen rushing to the hotel as a military helicopter flew overhead.
Attacks despite peace deal
The shooting at the Radisson follows a nearly 24-hour siege and hostage-taking at another hotel in August in the central Malian town of Sevare in which five UN workers were killed, along with four soldiers and four attackers.
Five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian, were also killed in an attack at a restaurant in Bamako in March in the first such incident in the capital.
Islamist groups have continued to wage attacks in Mali despite a June peace deal between former Tuareg rebels in the north of the country and rival pro-government armed groups.
Northern Mali fell in March-April 2012 to al-Qaeda-linked groups long concentrated in the area before being ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
Despite the peace deal, large swathes of Mali remain beyond the control of government and foreign forces.