At least 27 dead after Islamists seize luxury hotel in Mali's capital

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Dozens Killed and Wounded in Terror Attack in Mali

At least 27 people were reported dead on Friday after Malian commandos stormed a hotel seized by Islamist gunmen to rescue 170 people, many of them foreigners, trapped in the building.

The jihadist group Al Mourabitoun, allied to al Qaeda and based in the desert north of the former French colony, claimed responsibility for the attack. The former French colony has been battling Islamist rebels for years.

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More than seven hours after the initial assault, a security source declared the drama over, along with the deaths of two militants. But the security ministry said gunmen continued to hold out against special forces on the top floors of the seven-storey building.


"The attackers no longer have hostages. They are dug in in the upper floors. They are alone with the Malian special forces who are trying to dislodge them," spokesman Amadou Sangho said.

A U.N. official said U.N. peacekeepers searching the hotel had made a preliminary count of 27 bodies.

State television showed troops brandishing AK47s in the lobby of the Radisson Blu, one of the capital Bamako's smartest hotels and beloved of foreigners. A body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

Peacekeepers saw 12 dead bodies in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor, the U.N. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. He added that the U.N. troops were still helping Malian authorities search the hotel.

See photos from the scene in Bamako:

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Mali hostage situation at Radisson Blu hotel, terrorism
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At least 27 dead after Islamists seize luxury hotel in Mali's capital
Tight security surrounds Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as he visits the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Malian security forces were hunting "more than three" suspects after a brazen assault on a luxury hotel in the capital that killed 20 people plus two assailants, an army commander said Saturday. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Police tape cordons off the street of the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 21, 2015, a day after the deadly jihadist siege at the luxury hotel. Investigators in Mali were on November 21 hunting at least three people suspected of links to the jihadist siege that left at least 19 people dead. The government has declared a state of emergency after the bloody nine-hour hostage-taking at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, exactly a week after the Paris massacre. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
Mali trooper assist a hostage, centre, to leave the scene, from the Radisson Blu hotel to safety after gunmen attacked the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Islamic extremists armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning, killing at least three people and initially taking numerous hostages, authorities said. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
A member of special forces checks under a car parked outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015, after the assault of security forces. Malian forces backed by French troops stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako after suspected Islamist gunmen seized guests and staff in a nine-hour hostage crisis that left at least 18 people dead. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the 'horrific terrorist attack' on November 20, and indicated the violence was aimed at destroying peace efforts in the country. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of special forces are seen inside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015, after the assault of security forces. Suspected Islamist gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Mali's capital on November 20, firing automatic weapons and seizing more than 100 guests and staff in a hostage-taking that has left at least 22 people dead. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture taken of a room at the Radisson Blu hotel on November 21, 2015, the day after the deadly jihadist siege at the luxury hotel in the capital Bamako. Investigators in Mali were on November 21 hunting at least three people suspected of links to the jihadist siege that left at least 19 people dead. The government has declared a state of emergency after the bloody nine-hour hostage-taking at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, exactly a week after the Paris massacre. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
The lifeless body of a person in front of the Radisson Blu hotel after an attack by gunmen on the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Islamic extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning, and security forces worked to free guests floor by floor. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
Mali security personal pick up the lifeless body of a victim inside the Radisson Blu hotel after an attack by gunmen on the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Islamic extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning, and security forces worked to free guests floor by floor. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
A body is removed from the Radisson Blu hotel, after it was stormed by gunmen during a attack on the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Islamic extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning, and security forces worked to free guests floor by floor. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
In this TV image taken from Mali TV ORTM, a security officer gives instructions to other security forces inside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Mali TV ORTM, AP) 
In this TV image taken from Mali TV ORTM, security forces help hostages to safety, inside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Mali TV ORTM, AP)
In this TV image taken from Mali TV ORTM, security forces help hostages to safety, inside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Mali TV ORTM, AP)
In this TV image taken from Mali TV ORTM, a member of the security forces walks past a body lying covered on the floor in the Radisson Blu Hotel hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Mali TV ORTM, AP) 
Security force personnel escort people fleeing from the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. The company that runs the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital says assailants have takenhostages in a brazen assault involving grenades. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
In this image made available by Malikahere.com security personnel, right, attend close to the scene of an attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Malikahere.com via AP)
Malian troops take position near the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking that has left at least three people dead. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
Malian troops take position outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking that has left at least three people dead. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
Malian security forces evacuate two women from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking that has left at least three people dead. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
Malian troops take position outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking, the hotel chain said. AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIEN RIEUSSEC (Photo credit should read Sebastien RIEUSSEC/AFP/Getty Images)
People run to flee from the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. The company that runs the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital says assailants have takenhostages in a brazen assault involving grenades. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
Malian security forces escort a hostage freed from the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking that has left at least three people dead. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
In this TV image taken from Mali TV ORTM, security forces crouch down outside the Radisson Blu Hotel hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Mali TV ORTM, AP) 
In this TV image taken from Mali TV ORTM, a woman is led away by security personnel from the Radisson Blu Hotel hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Mali TV ORTM, AP)
In this image made available by Malikahere.com security personnel, attend close to the scene of an attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Malikahere.com via AP)
Onlookers gather near the Radisson Blu hotel after gunmen stormed the building in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning.(AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
Malian security forces prepare to transport hostages freed from the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking that has left at least three people dead. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
Malian security forces take position near the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking, the hotel chain said. AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIEN RIEUSSEC (Photo credit should read Sebastien RIEUSSEC/AFP/Getty Images)
Malian troops take position outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20, 2015. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking that has left at least three people dead. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE (Photo credit should read HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)
In this TV image taken from Mali TV ORTM, security forces help hostages to safety, inside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday Nov. 20, 2015. Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning. (Mali TV ORTM, AP)
Map locates Bamako, Mali; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;
Around 10 gunmen have stormed a hotel in #Mali and taken 170 hostages https://t.co/jORlDVglFu (Pic:Malikahere) https://t.co/QjhcILBe5F
'10 gunmen storm luxury hotel in Mali taking 170 hostage and shouting 'Allahu Akbar' https://t.co/Qn7ZPTFRLl https://t.co/Qso9tortWf
SECURITY MESSSAGE (1/4) The Embassy is aware of an ongoing active shooter operation at the Radisson Hotel.
SECURITY MESSAGE (2/4) The U.S. Embassy staff has been asked to shelter in place. All U.S. citizens should shelter in place.
SECURITY MESSAGE (3/4) Private U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact their families.
SECURITY MSG 4/4 Monitor local media for updates. US citizens should adhere to the instructions of local authorities and monitor local media
La fusillade au Radisson de Bamako semble sérieuse. Suivre la situation de près. #Aqmi #Barkhan #IBK https://t.co/Qq5PX932nm
170 people are locked in by attackers at the upscale Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali. More on #BBCAfricaLive https://t.co/E8xbSUURRv
#BREAKING: #Mali: at least 5 dead, hostages taken, inc. foreigners, in Terror attack at Radisson hotel in #Bamako https://t.co/82qSWYQppZ
170 hostages being held by jihadist gunmen inside #Mali hotel https://t.co/LLT5k13YQS
Breaking News: More than 150 hostages have been taken at a Radisson Hotel in Bamako, Mali https://t.co/eNHzM4qEDa
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A man who worked for a Belgian regional parliament was among the dead, the assembly said.

Minister of Internal Security Colonel Salif Traoré said the gunmen had burst through a security barrier at 7 a.m. (0700 GMT), spraying the area with gunfire and shouting "Allahu Akbar", or "God is great" in Arabic.

The attacks are a slap in the face for France, which has stationed 3,500 troops in northern Mali to try to restore stability after a 2012 Tuareg rebellion which was later hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists.

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BURSTS OF GUNFIRE

Bursts of gunfire were heard as the assailants went through the hotel room by room and floor by floor, one senior security source and a witness told Reuters.

Some people were freed by the attackers after showing they could recite verses from the Koran, while others managed to escape or were brought out by security forces.

One of the rescued hostages, celebrated Guinean singer Sékouba "Bambino" Diabate, said he had overheard two of the assailants speaking English as they searched an adjacent room.

"We heard shots coming from the reception area. I didn't dare go out of my room because it felt like this wasn't just simple pistols - these were shots from military weapons," Diabate told Reuters by phone.

"The attackers went into the room next to mine. I stayed still, hidden under the bed, not making a noise," he said. "I heard them say in English 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'."

The raid on the hotel, which lies just west of the city centre near government ministries and diplomatic offices, came a week after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris, raising fears that French nationals were being specifically targeted.

Twelve Air France flight crew were in the hotel but all were brought out safely, the French national carrier said.

A Turkish official said five of seven Turkish Airlines staff had also managed to flee. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said three of 10 Chinese tourists caught inside had been rescued.

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PRESIDENT RETURNS

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in Chad, his office said.

Northern Mali was occupied by Islamist fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, for most of 2012. They were driven out by a French-led military operation, but sporadic violence has continued in Mali's central belt on the southern reaches of the Sahara, and in Bamako.

One security source said as many as 10 gunmen had stormed the building, although the company that runs the hotel, Rezidor Group, said it understood that there were only two attackers.

Al Mourabitoun has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, including an assault on a hotel in the town of Sevare, 600 km (375 miles) northeast of Bamako, in August in which 17 people including five U.N. staff were killed.

One of its leaders is Mokhtar Belmokhtar, blamed for a large-scale assault on an Algerian gas field in 2013 and a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa.

In the wake of last week's Paris attacks, an Islamic State militant in Syria told Reuters the organisation viewed France's military intervention in Mali as another reason to attack France and French interests.

"This is just the beginning. We also haven't forgotten what happened in Mali," said the non-Syrian fighter, who was contacted online by Reuters. "The bitterness from Mali, the arrogance of the French, will not be forgotten at all."

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