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Hostages freed as forces storm hotel; 18 LEFT DEAD AS MALI ARMED GANG SEIZE 170.

AT least 18 were reported dead last night after gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Mali and took 170 hostages.

Malian special forces earlier entered the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako and freed scores of people, according to a military spokesman.

Army commander Modibo Nama Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar" - "God is great" in Arabic - before firing on the guards and taking hostages.

National broadcaster ORTM, citing security officials, said 18 bodies had already been found at the hotel and that no more hostages were being held.

A source with Mali's UN mission said at least 12 bodies had been recovered.

It was not immediately clear whether any attackers were still alive inside the hotel. Gunfire continued into the late afternoon, and Mr Traore said operations were continuing.

An extremist group that two years ago split from al Qaida's North Africa branch claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group, led by Moktar Belmoktar, said it wanted fighters freed from Mali's prisons and for attacks against northern Malians to stop.

The jihadist group, known as the Mourabitounes, was formed in 2013 after Belmoktar left al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and fused with a Malian militant group. The statement said the Mourabitounes attacked in coordination with the "Sahara Emirate" affiliated with al Qaida. Malian special forces were freeing hostages "floor by floor", Mr Traore said earlier.

US special forces assisted Malian troops in hostage rescue efforts, said Colonel Mark Cheadle of the US Army's Africa Command. President Barack Obama said he was monitoring the situation. At least six Americans were evacuated from the hotel but it was unclear how many more were inside, Col Cheadle said.

France's national gendarme service said about 40 French special police forces were playing a support role.

The French defence ministry said French soldiers arrived in Bamako to support Malian forces.

The guests at the sprawling, cream-and-pink luxury hotel, which has 190 rooms and features a spa, outdoor pool and ballroom, came from many countries. But the attack was perceived by many in France, particularly in the government, as a new attack on French interests.

The French military operation in Mali in 2013 against Islamic extremists who were holding the northern half of the country was the first of several foreign interventions that President Francois Hollande has launched as president.

CAPTION(S):

Security forces inside the |hotel as they free hostages

Mali troopers |help a hostage, centre, to leave the Radisson Blu hotel

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:6MALI
Date:Nov 21, 2015
Words:412
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