Malian commandos stormed a luxury hotel in Bamako on Friday after Islamist gunmen took 170 people hostage in the capital of the former French colony, which has been battling rebels allied to al Qaeda for several years, Reuters reports.
Dozens of people were reported to have escaped or been freed, but at least three were dead. A security source said the gunmen had dug in on the seventh floor of the hotel as special forces advanced on them. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
State television showed footage of troops in camouflage fatigues wielding AK47s in the lobby of the Radisson Blu. In the background, a body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.
Minister of Internal Security Colonel Salif Traoré said three people had been killed and two wounded by the gunmen, who burst through security at the hotel entrance at 7 am (0700 GMT).
State television said 80 hostages had left the building by midday, but an hour later the hotel’s website said 124 guests and 13 staff were still inside.
Some people were freed by the attackers after showing they could recite verses from the Koran, while others were brought out by security forces or managed to escape under their own steam.
One of the rescued hostages, celebrated Guinean singer Sékouba ‘Bambino’ Diabate, said he had overheard two of the assailants speaking in English as they searched the room next to his.
Twelve Air France flight crew were in the building but all were extracted 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.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in Chad to return to Bamako, his office said. French President Francois Hollande said France would “use all the means available to us on the ground to free the hostages”.
It happened a week after deadly attacks in Paris, when 129 people were killed, 350 injured.