BAMAKO, Mali—Islamic extremists armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital this morning, killing at least three people and taking numerous hostages, authorities said.
Malian troops, backed by special forces from America and France, reacted quickly.
As people ran for their lives near the luxury hotel along a dirt road, the soldiers in full combat gear pointed the way to safety.
Within hours, local TV images showed heavily-armed troops in what appeared to be a lobby area.
Malian state TV reported 80 people have been freed. At least one Canadian man reportedly was among them.
Malian special forces were freeing hostages “floor by floor,” Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore told The Associated Press.
Still, Rezidor Hotel, the Brussels-based group that operates the hotel, said hours after the assault began that 125 guests and 13 employees remained inside.
U.S. special forces troops were assisting Malian forces in hostage rescue efforts, said Col. Mark Cheadle of the U.S. Army’s Africa Command.
President Barack Obama said he’s monitoring the situation.
A U.S. military official says at least six Americans have been evacuated from the hotel.
France’s national gendarme service said about 40 French special police forces were playing a support role.
The French defence ministry said French soldiers have arrived in Bamako to support Malian forces.
The guests at the sprawling, cream-and-pink coloured luxury hotel, which has 190 rooms and features a spa, outdoor pool, and ballroom, came from many countries.
But the attack was perceived by many in France, particularly in the government, as a new attack on French interests—one week after the Paris attacks.
The French military operation in Mali in 2013, against Islamic extremists who were holding the northern half of the country, was the first of several foreign interventions that President Francois Hollande has launched as president.
Those interventions have prompted increased threats against France and French interests from Islamic extremist groups from al-Qaida’s North African arm to the Islamic State group.
“This could be a strike at important French interests because the French government invested so much military energy in pushing the Islamic rebels out of Mali,” said Jens David Ohlin, an international law expert at Cornell University.
“While Mali might not have the same emotional significance to the French as Paris does, it is certainly an important part of the French military strategy,” he added.
French news websites and all-news television networks immediately switched from nearly non-stop coverage of the Paris attacks investigation and aftermath to nearly non-stop coverage of the Bamako stand-off.
At least one guest reported the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Qur’an before he was allowed to leave the hotel.
It was not immediately clear which Muslim extremist groups might be behind the attack.