Bamako, Mali: Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking, the hotel chain said.
Automatic weapons fire could be heard from outside the 190-room hotel in the city-centre, where security forces have set up a security cordon, an AFP journalist said.
Security sources said the gunmen were "jihadists" who had entered the hotel compound in a car that had diplomatic plates.
"It's all happening on the seventh floor, jihadists are firing in the corridor," one security source told AFP.
At least three people have been killed in the siege. The victims include two Malian citizens and a French national, authorities said.
#BREAKING: At least three hostages killed in Bamako hotel siege: minister
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) November 20, 2015
Twenty Indians among 170 hostages at Radisson hotel, according to Ministry of External Affairs. MEA is in touch with Indian Embassy in Mali over hostage crisis at hotel. The hostages are reported to be safe. The Indians were part of a business delegation staying at the hotel, according to CNN IBN.
#MaliAttack : Acc'g to current info there are 20 Indians staying in the hotel. Our Amb is continuously in touch with them & monitor'g sitn
— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) November 20, 2015
Eighty hostages have been freed in the Mali hotel siege up till now, AFP reports a Local TV as saying.
Earlier, a Malian army commander said that about 20 hostages have been released from the hotel in the capital that was seized by gunmen throwing grenades, AP had reported.
The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako when the assault began says 125 guests and 13 employees are still in the hotel.
Separately, Germany's foreign minister says that two Germans who were taken hostage in the hotel have been set free.
The gunmen had seized about 170 hostages this morning at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Military commander Modibo Naman Traore told The Associated Press that about 20 hostages were freed later in the morning.
It was not immediately clear why the group was freed or how many exactly remained held by the militants.
Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages.
Some guests also have been able to escape the hotel. Monique Kouame Affoue Ekonde, an Ivorian, said she and six other people were escorted out by security forces.
Initial reports by AFP quoted ministry sources as saying that Mali security forces had evacuated around a dozen hostages from the hotel. Security forces have also escorted two women from besieged Bamako hotel, according to AFP.
#BREAKING: Mali security forces evacuate around a dozen hostages from hotel: ministry
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) November 20, 2015
Chinese, French, Turkish citizens among 170 hostages
At least seven Chinese hostages are also reported to be among the hostages in the siege, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) November 20, 2015
French nationals also among those held in hotel siege, ITV says. Elite French unit has headed to Mali amid hostage crisis, AFP reports.
— GendarmerieNationale (@Gendarmerie) November 20, 2015
Six Turkish Airlines personnel are also reported to be trapped in the besieged Mali hotel, official sources have said.
Malian soldiers, police and special forces were on the scene as a security perimeter was set up, along with members of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali and the French troops fighting jihadists in west Africa under Operation Barkhane.
The Rezidor Hotel Group, the US-based parent company of Radisson Blu, said two people were holding 170 people hostage.
The company said it was "aware of the hostage-taking that is ongoing at the property today, 20th November 2015. As per our information two persons have locked in 140 guests and 30 employees".
It added in a statement: "Our safety and security teams and our corporate team are in constant contact with the local authorities in order offer any support possible to reinstate safety and security at the hotel."
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.
With inputs from Agencies
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Updated Date: Nov 20, 2015 19:37:22 IST