Gunmen Attack Radisson Hotel in Mali, Take Hostages

Mali trooper assist a hostage, centre, to leave the scene, from the Radisson Blu hotel to safety after gunmen attacked the hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Islamic extremists armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning, killing at least three people and initially taking numerous hostages, authorities said. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)

Just a week after the Paris terrorist attacks, the benefactor of a lot of France’s counterterrorism efforts suffered an attack on a popular hotel.

Gunmen stormed the American-owned Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, during breakfast time and took some 170 hostages. Both U.S. and French Special Forces were assisting in freeing the hostages little by little, combing through the hotel floor-by-floor. At least six U.S. citizens have been confirmed rescued thus far.

Initial reports said three people have been shot dead, including a French citizen. A gardener told BBC he was working out front when the terrorists arrived: “They were in car with a diplomatic license plate. They were masked. At the gate of the hotel, the guard stopped them and they start firing. We fled,” he said.

Dressed in ordinary street clothes, they reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they stormed the facility with automatic weapons, and let some hostages go if they could recite Quranic verses. They reportedly came in through the front lobby and began randomly shooting.

Terrorists in the region have been seeking revenge since France intervened to push back al-Qaeda from territory it seized in the northern part of the country in 2013. Residents of the ancient city of Timbuktu cheered French troops as liberators when they were freed of al-Qaeda’s brutal Sharia.

“We are closely following the hostage-taking incident that is taking place at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Bamako/Mali today, 20th November 2015,” Radisson said in a statement. “According to our latest information 124 guests and 13 employees are still in the building. Our highest concern is the safety of all our guests and employees in the hotel. We are in constant contact with the authorities there and will share further information with you when we have it.” The hotel chain established a special family information line, + 33 1 70 83 74 37.

The Radisson is popular with foreign travelers, hosting business conferences, diplomats and flight crews. It has 190 rooms, seven meeting rooms, a ballroom, one restaurant, two bars, and a spa and fitness center. It’s close to the Bamako Grand Mosque.

A White House official said National Security Advisor Susan Rice briefed President Obama on the unfolding situation. “The president directed his team to keep him apprised of developments.”

Obama is in Malaysia today as part of his Asia trip. At a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Razak, a reporter shouted a question about Mali, to which Obama responded, “We’re monitoring the situation.”

A Defense Department official told ABC News that about 25 members of the U.S. military were in the capital at the time of the attack.

“We understand some of these personnel are assisting first responders with moving civilians to secured locations, while Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen,” the official said.

Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was in Chad for a meeting of the G5-Sahel and flew back home upon hearing of the attack.