VIA| Gunmen stormed a hotel packed with foreigners Friday in the former French colony of Mali, taking 170 guests and workers hostage, U.S. Embassy officials and a hotel spokeswoman told NBC News.
Three people were killed, but many — including six Americans — managed to escape the upscale hotel in the capital Bamako, military officials told the AP.
An al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group claimed credit for the bloody attack, Reuters reported. NBC News could not immediately confirm that.
The attack came just days after the Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked militant group Ansar Dine, called for attacks on France and its interests in Mali.
Shortly after the shooting started, U.S. military personnel in town for a United Nations peacekeeping conference helped local first responders move the escapees to safety, officials said, although there has not been a formal request for American military assistance.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy described the hostage-taking as an “ongoing active-shooter operation.”
The raid on the Radisson Blu, which is popular with foreigners and frequently used by airline crews, came a week after terrorists killed 130 people in Paris.
In response to the fresh mayhem in Mali, France announced the immediate dispatch of 50 elite counter-terrorism police to the country.
The owner of the hotel said it was working to establish the names and nationalities of those taken.
“They have locked in about 140 guests and about 30 employees,” a spokeswoman for the Carlson Rezidor group, told NBC News. “So the hotel is locked down and there is no possibility to go out or come in.”
“As per our information the persons who have entered the building and have initiated the hostage-taking have locked the property, so it is not locked by police or other forces,” she added.
Monique Kouame Affoue Ekonde, an Ivorian, said she and six other people — including a Turkish woman — were escorted out by security forces as the gunmen rushed “toward the fifth or sixth floor.”
U.S. officials had been keeping tabs on Mali. In August, the embassy issued a security message informing American citizens “of a heightened security risk to westerners in southern Mali, including the area outside Bamako city.”
On Friday, the embassy confirmed that it was aware of an “ongoing active-shooter operation at the Radisson Hotel.”
“The U.S. Embassy staff has been asked to shelter in place,” it said. “All U.S. citizens should shelter in place. Private U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact their family. Monitor local media for updates. U.S. citizens should adhere to the instructions of local authorities and monitor local media.”
Meanwhile, a Chinese guest with the family name Chen told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency that a number of his countrymen were trapped inside the hotel. At least seven Chinese tourists were among the hostages, the agency said.
The Indian government has said 20 Indians were in the hotel when it was attacked. Turkish Airlines said seven of its workers were also staying in the hotel, but five had been freed by security forces. The fate of the remaining two was not known.