Updated on November 20 at 9:12 a.m. ET
Gunmen in Mali have killed at least three people and taken 170 guests and staff members hostage at a luxury hotel in the capital city of Bamako, according to multiple reports.
“The attackers, carrying AK-47s, arrived around 7 a.m. in a vehicle or vehicles with diplomatic plates,” one United Nations spokesman told CNN.
Details remain sketchy so far. Estimates of the number of attackers involved have ranged from as few as two to as many as 13. There have also been no claims of responsibility yet, however, some guests who were able to prove their Muslim faith were reportedly released. Of the three people killed, two were said to be Malian nationals while the other was French.
A rescue operation involving special security forces is currently underway and, according to state radio, 80 of the hostages have been freed. Another report suggests that 136 people—124 guests and 12 employees—still remain captive including a number of foreign tourists.
“Two members of the Malian security forces were wounded by shots fired from the seventh floor of the hotel and were taken away by ambulance,” one local reporter on the scene told The New York Times. Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore told the AP that hostages were being freed “floor by floor.”
Twelve members of an AirFrance crew that were staying at the hotel are among those reported safe. As a precaution, the airline has canceled all flights to the former French colony. According to Reuters, several Chinese tourists and a few members of a Turkish Airlines crew remain trapped inside the hotel. American special-operations forces are also said to be assisting at the scene.
Mali has been in a protracted battle against terrorism since 2012 when the northern part of the country was taken over by Islamist insurgents aligned with al Qaeda. French troops intervened and eventually won back the territory.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was attending a regional summit in Chad, is on his way back to Bamako. French President Francois Hollande has pledged France’s support, saying “we will use all the means available to us on the ground to free the hostages.”
We will be updating this story as we learn more.