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170 held hostage in hotel in Mali capital, Bamako

The Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. DR

As many as 170 people were taken hostage by armed men in a hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako, on Friday morning. The hostage-takers shouted "Allahu Akbar!" when they entered the building, security services sources said. Later reports said that those who cold quote from the Koran had been released.

Early reports said that two people had locked in 140 guests and 30 staff but security services late said about 10 armed men were inside the Radisson hotel.

"I was on my way to drop off my kids who are at school near the Radisson, when I heard gunshoots and saw the road was blocked," eyewitness Astou Ry told RFI. "So I went to my sister’s who lives nearby and from there we heard more gunshots.

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"Then sirens started to go off so I didn’t stop near the Radisson to see what was happening. I was with my daughter, it was dangerous. I was scared. The gunshots kept being fired. And then there was an explosion. We don’t know if it came from the police or if it was a suicide-bomber that blew himself up."

The AFP news agency reported automatic weapon fire on the seventh floor of the 190-room hotel mid-morning.

Malian security sources said that the attackers used a vehicle with diplomatic number plates.

Security forces escorted two women from the hotel, AFP reported at about 10.00am local time.

The Rezidor Hotel Group, the US-based chain that owns the Radisson, broke the news to international media in a statement released in London. 

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"Our safety and security teams and our corporate team are in constant contact with the local authorities in order to offer any support possible to reinstate safety and security at the hotel," it said.

Malian security forces were joined by UN and French soldiers at the scene as the hostage-taking unfolded.

A French and a Belgian citizen were among five people killed in an attack on a bar and restaurant in Bamako in March.

French troops have been fighting armed Islamists in northern Mali since January 2013.

RFI reporters Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were murdered in northern Mali two years ago.