BAMAKO, Mali — Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning and seized 170 hostages.
A Malian military official says at least three people are confirmed dead.
At least 170 hostages were believed to have been taken, though some 20 were freed later in the morning and others managed to escape with the help of security forces.
The U.S. Embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an "ongoing active shooter operation" at the hotel in Bamako. People in the area ran for their lives along a dirt road as a soldier in full combat gear them to safety.
Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages. The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the hotel said the assailants have "locked in" 140 guests and 30 employees.
Some guests were able to escape the hotel. 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."
"I think they are still there. I've left the hotel and I don't know where to go. I'm tired and in a state of shock," she said.
The U.S. and French embassies told their citizens in Bamako to take shelter wherever they are.
A top official at the French presidency said French citizens were in the hotel but could not give more details because their number and identities were not confirmed. The official spoke anonymously in line with presidency policy.
China's official state Xinhua News Agency quoted a Chinese guest as saying via a mobile chat app that several Chinese were among the guests trapped at the hotel.
A staffer at the Radisson Blu hotel who gave his name as Tamba Diarra said over the phone that the attackers used grenades in the assault.
Following a military coup in 2012, Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali, prompting a French-led military intervention in early 2013 that forced the extremists from northern towns and cities, though the north remains insecure and militant attacks have extended farther south this year.
In March masked gunmen shot up a restaurant in Bamako, located in Mali's south, that is popular with foreigners, killing five people.
About 1,000 French troops remain in the country. The Netherlands also has troops working with the UN mission in Mali. According to the Dutch defense ministry, some 450 Dutch military personnel are taking part in the mission along with four Apache and three Chinook helicopters. Most of the Dutch force is based in Gao, but there are a few officers at the U.N. mission headquarters in Bamako.
While it was still unclear how many Chinese were trapped inside the hotel, China's embassy issued a warning to Chinese businesses and residents to step up safety precautions in the face of "continuous deterioration of security conditions" in Bamako. China has a long history of providing aid and investment to Mali, particularly in the areas of transport infrastructure, construction and mineral extraction.
Ambulances were rushing to the hotel as a military helicopter flew overhead. The U.N. mission said it was sending security reinforcements and medical aid to the scene.
Ahmed reported from Kaolack, Senegal. AP writers Robbie Corey-Boulet in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.