Gunmen attack luxury hotel in Mali capital, 170 taken hostage

Yahoo News and Agencies

UPDATE: At least 21 people have been killed after Islamist extremists with guns and grenades stormed a luxury hotel in Mali.

The country's president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said 19 people and two militants had been killed. Seven people were injured, he added.

Wounded civilians were this evening being evacuated from the hotel, popular with airline staff, Western tourists and local dignitaries.

People run to flee from the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali. Photo: AP Photo/Harouna Traore

Three Britons, who were inside the hotel at the time of the attack, are alive and safe, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said tonight.

Some of the gunmen remain dug in on the upper floors of the hotel, but they are no longer believed to be holding hostages.

State television showed footage of troops in camouflage fatigues wielding AK47s in the lobby of the hotel, one of the country's smartest.

In the background, a body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

Around 10 men armed with guns and grenades entered the hotel at around 7am local time.

They were shouting and screaming "Allahu Akbar", which means "God Is great" in Arabic.

Security forces drive near the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali. Photo: Reuters/Adama Diarra

Witnesses reported seeing some of the men approach the hotel in a car, wearing dark suits and sunglasses.

They opened fire on security guards before raiding the building.

More than 150 people were originally taken hostage by the attackers.

The Malian forces moved "floor by floor" rescuing people, assisted by elite US and French troops, witnesses said.

Among the dead are an American and a Belgian local government official, according to a source.

Belgian Geoffrey Dieudonne had been in Mali for a convention, a parliament spokesman told Belga news agency.

Two security guards have been injured in the assault.

At least two gunmen are among the dead, a Malian military source said.

One of the freed hostages, a singer from Guinea, said he heard attackers in the next room speaking English.

"I heard them say in English 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'," Sékouba 'Bambino' Diabate told Reuters.

Al Mourabitoun, an African Jihadist group affiliated with al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Radisson Blu's head of security said the attackers arrived in a large vehicle and forced their way through a security barrier.

A security source said 20 hostages were released by the gunmen after being made to recite verses from the Koran.

Two women told an AFP journalist they had seen the body of a fair-skinned man lying on the floor of the hotel.

Turkish Airlines said seven of its staff were among the hostages, but five including two pilots had managed to escape.

Air France said it had 12 crew in the hotel but all were safely "extracted". As a precaution it has cancelled Friday's flights to and from Bamako.

The hostages also include 20 Indians, seven Algerians, six Americans and two Germans who have all been rescued along with three of 10 Chinese nationals.

The owners of the hotel, which attracts many foreign visitors, originally said 140 guests and 30 employees had been "locked in" by two raiders.

The Rezidor Hotel Group have since revised the figure to 13 employees, making the total number of hostages 153.

The hotel group's president Wolfgang Neumann said: "We are devastated at what has happened at Bamako today."

The US and French embassies have asked their citizens in Bamako to take shelter.

Mali's President has cut short a visit to Chad where he was attending a regional summit, and a 10-day state of emergency has been declared in the wake of the attack.

President Francois Hollande has said France will "yet again stand firm and show our solidarity" with its former colony.

It is to send extra troops to boost the 1,000 who remain there.

The attack comes a week after the Paris massacre in which 130 people were killed .

- 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 jihadist 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.

The website of the Radisson Blu in Bamako says it offers "upscale lodging close to many government offices and business sites", serving as "one of the city's most popular conference venues" with "a stunning 508-square-metre ballroom and meeting rooms".

Radisson Blu, an upscale brand of the Radisson hotel chain, has more than 230 luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.

News break – November 20