Up to nine people are reported to have died after attackers armed with guns and grenades stormed a luxury hotel in Mali this morning.
Gunmen took 170 people hostages after reportedly using a vehicle to smash through security barriers at the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako at about 7am.
The men shouted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great” in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages, Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said.
The attack at the Radisson hotel is the latest in a string of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda-linked groups in Mali.
The west African country has been gripped by an alarming political crisis since 2012 – the most serious since it gained independence from France in 1960.
During the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January this year, terrorist Amedy Coulibaly was overheard blaming French military action in Mali for his bloody supermarket siege.
The Radisson Blu is a luxury hotel that is the most secure in the city and is often frequented by foreign businesspeople, UN and EU officials.
Located in the West of the city, it is situated in a business district close to embassies.
The hotel is part of the Radisson Blu chain, which has upmarket hotels across Europe, Africa and Asia, and is operated by Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, which has headquarters in the US and Belgium.
Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants have been fighting the army in northern Mali for a number of years.
In August this year, gunmen in Mali killed at least 13 people including five UN peacekeepers in an attack on a hotel in the central town of Sevare.
In March, five people were killed when a masked gunman opened fire in La Terrasse, a bar in Bamako.
A Belgian security official working for the EU, a French national and three Malians died in the attack.
In April 2012 the north of Mali, an area known as Azawad, was seized by al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
They have since torn through the surrounding area, destroying Muslim shrines and imposing Sharia law.
In January 2013 France sent in military intervention and a peace deal was signed between the government and Tuareg rebels in June, leading to jihadists retreating.
But the rebels pulled out of the peace agreement later that year.
There are still large swathes of the North still in the control of the terrorists and attacks have continued and the area has become a terrorist training ground.
In August 2014 France set up Operation Barkhane, an anti-terrorist operation in Africa’s Sahel region targeting five former French colonies – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger and Mali.
The main players
There are several competing insurgent groups in Mali.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad took over the northern region in 2012 and are fighting for a homeland for Mali’s minority Tuarag community.
Ansar Dine is a home-grown movement led by renowned former Tuareg rebel leader Iyad Ag Ghaly aiming to impose Islamic law across Mali.
The Macina Liberation Front (MCF) emerged in central Mali recently and has claimed responsiblity for the attack in August in Sevare that killed 13 people. There is growing speculation that MLF represents the new Boko Haram – the Islamist insurgent in Nigeria.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a large terrorist organisation mostly comprising Algerian and Saharan communities aiming to spread Islamic law and liberate Malians from French colonial legacy.
Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa is a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that aims to spread jihad across the region rather confine itself to the Sahel and Maghreb regions.
Meanwhile Tuareg separatists continue to fight the Islamists.