Extremist group claims responsibility for Mali attack

Security force personnel escort people fleeing from the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. The company that runs the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital says assailants have takenhostages in a brazen assault involving grenades. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) – The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):

4:30 p.m.

An extremist group that two years ago split from al-Qaida’s North Africa branch and led by Moktar Belmoktar claimed responsibility for the attack, in a recorded statement carried by Al-Jazeera. The group said it wanted fighters freed from Mali’s prisons and for attacks against northern Malians to stop.

The 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 issued Friday said the Mourabitounes had attacked in coordination with the “Sahara Emirate” affiliated with al-Qaida.

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3:20 p.m.

United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq says U.N. “quick-reaction forces” have been deployed to the siege area at the Radisson Blu hotel and are supporting Malian and other security forces.

But he said that U.N. peacekeeping troops are not conducting operations. He said the United Nations had a few staff members in the hotel at the time of the attack but they are all safely out.

Separately, the French Defense Ministry says a unit of French soldiers has arrived in Bamako in support of Malian security forces. It did not specify how many soldiers were involved.

France has 3,500 troops operating in Mali and four other countries in the Sahel region as part of a five-nation counterterrorism operation codenamed Barkhane.

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2:55 p.m.

A U.S. military official says at least six Americans have been evacuated from the Radisson Blu hotel.

U.S. military personnel already stationed in the country have been helping take people from the hotel to safety.

Col. Mark R. Cheadle, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, says the U.S. military hasn’t received any other requests for help responding to the attack, but that the United States will continue assisting the French with intelligence and surveillance in Mali.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls meanwhile is expressing his support for Mali, France’s former West African colony, saying it is a country “that fights jihadism so bravely.”

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2:45 p.m.

France’s national gendarme service says “about 40” French special police forces are taking part in the assault on the Radisson Blu hotel.

A spokesman for the service who was not authorized to be publicly named said the forces are permanently based in Bamako, primarily to secure the French Embassy.

He said they are currently “playing a supporting role” alongside local security forces.

-Nicolas Vaux-Montagny in Paris

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2:25 p.m.

A spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command says U.S. military forces stationed in Mali are helping to secure the scene of the hotel attack in Mali.

Col. Mark R. Cheadle says American military personnel “have helped move civilians to secure locations, as Malian forces work to clear the hotel of hostile gunmen.”

U.S. State Dept. spokesman John Kirby says Americans “might be present at the hotel,” and that the U.S. Embassy in Bamako is working to verify this.

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1:30 p.m.

The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako when the assault began says 125 guests and 13 employees are still in the hotel.

Separately, Germany’s foreign minister says that two Germans who were taken hostage in the hotel have been set free.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters on Friday during a visit to Zambia that is unclear whether any other Germans were in the hotel, the dpa news agency reported.

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1 p.m.

Malian state TV says 80 people who were in the hotel in Bamako when the assault began have now been freed. The special forces were continuing their operation to end the standoff.

Earlier, the Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the Bamako hotel said the assailants had “locked in” 140 guests and 30 employees in the attack on Friday.

Malian troops reacted quickly. As people ran for their lives near the hotel along a dirt road, the soldiers in full combat gear pointed the way to safety. Within hours, local TV images showed heavily armed troops in what appeared to be a lobby area.

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12:35 p.m.

President Barack Obama says he’s monitoring the situation playing out in Mali.

Obama made the brief comment about hotel attack after a meeting in Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. He didn’t offer any additional details.

The White House says Obama was briefed about the attack by his national security adviser, Susan Rice. White House officials say Obama has asked to be kept updated about new developments.

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12:20 p.m.

Malian army commander, Modibo Nama Traore, says Malian special forces have entered the hotel and are freeing hostages “floor by floor.”

He says at least 30 hostages have been freed already and that Malian security forces are trying to make contact with the assailants.

Traore says at least one guest earlier reported that the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Quran before he was allowed to leave the hotel.

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12:15 p.m.

Air France says 12 members of one of its plane crew who are staying at the attacked hotel in Bamako are all safe.

Air France spokeswoman Ulli Gendrot told The Associated Press that the “the crew is in a safe place.” She said the 12 included two pilots.

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12:10 p.m.

French President Francois Hollande says France is ready to help Mali with all means necessary in the wake of the hotel attack in the capital, Bamako.

Hollande asks all French citizens in Mali to make contact with the French Embassy there “in order that everything is made to offer them protection.”

In Belgium, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said there were four Belgians registered at the attacked hotel but it’s unclear if they were taken hostage by the gunmen or not.

Reynders also said there are “15 hostages who have been freed after an intervention” but didn’t provide more details.

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11:57 a.m.

Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has cut short its tip to Chad where he was attending a meeting of G5 Sahel.

The Mali presidency said on Twitter that Keita will be back to Bamako “in the next hours.”

Meanwhile, France’s national gendarme service says about 50 elite police troops are en route from Paris to Bamako.

A spokesman for the service who was not authorized to be publicly named said they are heading Friday from two different units of special police forces trained for emergency situations.

-Nicolas Vaux-Montagny in Paris

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11:52 a.m.

Air France has cancelled its Paris-Bamako flight after gunmen attacked a hotel in the Mali capital.

Air France spokesman Ulli Gendrot said the “3852 flight has been canceled.” It was due later Friday.

The attackers seized about 170 hostages on Friday morning at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

A Malian military official has said at least three people are confirmed dead in the attack and that more than 100 hostages are believed to be held.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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