Malian, French and US security forces have ended a rescue operation at a five-star hotel in Mali’s capital after gunmen stormed it and took at least 170 people hostage.
Mali state television reported late on Friday that 27 people and three attackers had been killed in the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako. The security minister said the gunmen were “holding no more hostages”.
US special forces helped at least six Americans, a military spokesman told reporters in Washington. Footage also showed French security forces at the scene, and witnesses saw UN troops.
Gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is great”, in the morning opened fire outside the hotel in the centre of the capital before rushing inside.
Al-Mourabitoun, an armed group that has had ties to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it carried it out “in coordination with [the] Imarat al-Sahra group and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM]”.
Reports said the attackers drove up to the hotel in vehicles bearing diplomatic licence plates, thereby gaining easy access.
“About 10 gunmen arrived early in the morning and shot all the guards in front of the Radisson,” business owner Garba Konate told Al Jazeera.
Another witness said he helped a wounded guard to safety.
“I started hearing gunshots coming from the hotel,” said Ibrahim, 28, who works at a cultural centre 40 metres away.
“Soon, after I saw one of the guards running out injured … The security guard told me the shooters were so quick that he doesn’t even know how many came in,” he told Al Jazeera.
Heavy gunfire could be heard from outside the 190-room hotel where security forces had set up a cordon.
A well-known Guinean singer who was in the hotel told Reuters he heard the gunmen speaking English.
“I heard them say in English: ‘Did you load it?’, ‘Let’s go’,” Sekouba ‘Bambino’ Diabate, who was freed by Malian security forces, said. “I wasn’t able to see them because in these kinds of situations it’s hard.”
Idrissa Sangare, a local journalist at the scene, told Al Jazeera that UN officials had been holding a function at the hotel.
Sangare said he saw more than a dozen hostages exiting the Radisson in groups of two and three. Some witnesses told the media that several hostages were released by the attackers after reciting verses from the Quran.
About 20 Indian nationals were inside, India’s foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a tweet, but they were later freed. Seven Chinese nationals had also been held, state news agency Xinhua said, and staff from both Turkish Airlines and Air France crew were in the hotel at the time of the assault.
Armed 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 between March and April 2012 to al-Qaeda-linked groups who were long active in the area before being taken by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
Despite the peace deal, large swaths of the country remain beyond the control of government forces.