Gunmen have killed three people and taken 170 hostages in an attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in the centre of Mali’s capital, Bamako.
The hotel owners say they are working closely with local authorities and security services, and that they believe the gunmen have taken 130 guests and 30 employees hostage in the five-star hotel, which is popular with expat workers.
The BBC reports a witness at the scene saying he saw the gunmen arrive at the hotel in a car with diplomatic plates.
Qatari Al Jazeera TV has named the group behind the attack as “Ansar al-Din” (supporters of religion), a group that seeks to impose Sharia law in Mali. Earlier this week, the leader of Ansar al-Din, Iyad Ag Ghaly, called for attacks on French targets within Mali.
Gunmen entered the hotel at around 07:00 GMT shouting “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” in Arabic, and shot and killed at least three people as they rounded up the hostages.
The gunmen asked all guests to recite verses from the Quran to find the Muslims in the group, and those able to were freed.
Shortly before midday, Malian special forces stormed the hotel and have released at least 80 hostages, clearing the hotel floor by floor.
Malian police, soldiers, and special forces are on the scene alongside UN peacekeepers and French soldiers
In January 2013, France militarily intervened in Mali after al-Qaeda-linked militants seized control of much of the north of the country and threatened to march on the capital. France, the former colonial power in Mali, has retained strong links with country.