American Killed in Attack on Luxury Hotel in Mali That Left At Least 19 Dead

At least 19 people, including one American, were reported dead on Friday after Islamist gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Mali and opened fire.

The U.S. State Department confirmed that an American was among the dead. A Belgian also reportedly lost their life, but the nationalities of the other victims are not yet clear.

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The situation began about 7 a.m. local time, as the attackers arrived at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in a vehicle or vehicles that had diplomatic plates, a spokesman for the United Nations missions told CNN.

Men armed with AK-47s stormed the hotel while reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great" in Arabic, according to reports. Attackers reportedly freed some captives who were able to recite the Koran.

Security forces quickly launched a counterattack and footage showed military inside the lobby of the hotel, where an estimated 170 hostages were held captive.

"6 U.S. citizens rescued so far in . 2 U.S. military personnel assisting outside hotel," U.S. Africa Command wrote on Twitter around 10:30 a.m. ET.

More than seven hours after the initial assault, the hostage situation was declared over and two militants were reported dead, according to Reuters.

Gunmen remained on the upper floors of the seven-story building and were continuing to hold out against special forces, Reuters reported. Ten terrorists were reportedly involved in the siege, although initial reports vary significantly on how many gunmen participated in the attack.

The hotel was hosting a large delegation to peace talks in the country, a former French colony that has been battling Islamic extremists with the help of U.N. and French forces for several years.

People from many different countries, including America, France, Belgium, China, India and Turkey, were reported to be staying at the hotel at the time of the siege. 

Al Mourabitoun, a northern Mali-based jihadist group allied to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

French President Francois Hollande said, telling reporters in Paris he would provide "necessary support" to help Mali.

A French gendarmerie tactical unit trained in hostage rescue and counterterrorism operations and a 10-member gendarmerie forensic team were heading to Mali to provide support,  France's Gendarmerie Nationale said on Twitter

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U.S. Special Forces also assisted with the hostage situation, with a U.S. military spokesman telling CNN: "U.S. forces have helped move civilians to secured locations as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen."

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako released a statement on the situation on Twitter, writing: "The Embassy is aware of an ongoing active shooter operation at the Radisson Hotel. The U.S. Embassy staff has been asked to shelter in place.  All U.S. citizens should shelter in place. 

"Private U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact their families," the embassy wrote. "Monitor local media for updates. US citizens should adhere to the instructions of local authorities and monitor local media."

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