Mali attack: troops storm hotel after up to 27 deaths
More than 100 people were taken hostage in the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako
Special forces have stormed a hotel in Mali in which gunmen have killed at least three people and are holding more than 100 hostages.
They attacked the US-owned Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako this morning, screaming "God is great" in Arabic as they opened fire. Reports suggest that up to 27 people died in the assault.
The country's security ministry has confirmed that three of the gunmen have been killed by security forces, the BBC reports.
Dozens of people, many of them foreigners, have already been freed. Security sources told Reuters that some gunmen had been freeing hostages who were able to recite verses of the Koran.
US soldiers are assisting the Malian forces in the rescue operation, as are UN peacekeeping troops.
"We have sealed all the exit points of the hotel, so be assured none of the hostage takers will be able to escape," the interior minister told journalists outside the hotel.
It is still unclear how many attackers are involved, with some reports suggesting that up to ten gunmen had been seen. Eyewitnesses say they were masked and arrived in a car with diplomatic number plates.
Some of freed hostages reported hearing the gunmen speaking to each other in English, the Daily Telegraph reports.
"I heard them say in English 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'," said Sekouba 'Bambino' Diabate, a Guinean singer who was in the hotel when they attacked.
Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short his trip to Chad and President Francois Hollande sent a message of solidarity to the former French colony.
The hotel is in a neighbourhood west of the city centre, among government ministries and embassies, and is popular with aid workers, airline crew an UN officials.
Mali has experienced many terror attacks since Islamic extremists, some with links to al-Qaeda, took control of the north following a military coup in 2012.
A French-led military intervention in 2013 scattered the extremists from towns and cities, but the region remains insecure and there have been attacks in the south.
Earlier this year, five people were killed when masked gunmen attacked a restaurant popular with foreigners in Bamako. More than 1,000 French troops remain in the country.
The UK Foreign Office, which has advised against all travel to Mali for some time, has urged British nationals in the capital "to remain indoors" today.