At least 27 people were reported dead on Friday after Malian commandos stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako with at least 170 people inside, many of them foreigners, that had been seized by Islamist gunmen. Following the attack, the government has declared a 10-day nationwide state of emergency in Mali.
"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.
The attackers, carrying AK-47 rifles, arrived around 7 am local time in vehicles with diplomatic plates, said Olivier Saldago, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Mali.
The peacekeepers saw 12 corpses in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor, the official said on condition of anonymity. He added that the UN troops were still helping Malian authorities search the hotel.
An African Jihadist group affiliated with Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako.
Al-Mourabitoun, a group based in northern Mali and made up mostly of Tuaregs and Arabs, posted a message on Twitter saying it was behind the attack. The claim could not immediately be verified.
Vikas Swarup, a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, said 20 Indian nationals who were trapped in the hotel have been rescued. "Good news! All 20 Indians in the hotel in Bamako have been safely evacuated. Our ambassador in Mali has confirmed," the External Affairs ministry spokesperson tweeted.
Employees of a Dubai-based company, these Indians were staying in the hotel permanently, the spokesperson said in New Delhi.
Malian special forces were freeing hostages 'floor by floor', Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore told the Associated Press.
US special forces troops and about 40 French special police forces assisted the Malian forces in hostage rescue efforts.
One freed hostage who was hiding in his room as the attack took place, spoke to France 24.
He said: "The police and security forces helped us get out the building. There are still lots of people in there. I also saw bodies in the lobby, It was absolutely horrible."
He also told the French broadcaster that he believed the police operation was ongoing but gave no more details.
The 190-room Radisson Blu Hotel, which was reportedly 90% full, is close to many government offices and business sites.
Guinean singer Sekouba Bambino, who was among those who escaped the attack on the hotel, told the BBC: 'I woke up with the sounds of gunshots and for me, it was just small bandits who came in the hotel to claim something. After 20 or 30 minutes, I realized these are not just petty criminals.'
"I heard them say in English 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'. I wasn't able to see them because in these kinds of situations it's hard," he added.
Several dozen hostages, many of them crying -- including women, children and older people -- had begun streaming out of the hotel after hiding in their rooms, Amadou Sidib, a local reporter at the scene, told the New York Times.
Two members of the Malian security forces were wounded by shots fired from the seventh floor of the hotel, he added.
Northern Mali fell under the control of Islamist militants in 2012. A French-led offensive ousted them in 2013, but remnants of the group have staged a number of attacks on United Nations peacekeepers and Malian forces.
The hotel is a popular place for foreigners to stay in Bamako, a city with a population approaching two million, and French and American citizens were among those taken hostage.
The New York Times, quoting Malian journalist Kassim Traore who was in a building about 50 meters from the Radisson, reported that the attackers told hostages to recite a declaration of Muslim faith as a way separating Muslims from non-Muslims.
Those who could recite the declaration, the Shahada, were allowed to leave the hotel. The Shabab, a Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, used a similar approach in the attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013.