African jihadists (illustration)
African jihadists (illustration)Reuters

Muslim terrorists opened fire on an upscale hotel on Friday in the city of Bamako, the capital of the western African state of Mali, taking 170 people hostage.

The jihadists used automatic weapons according to security sources in their assault on the Radisson Blu Hotel. Some reports indicate that at least three people have died in the attack.

"They have locked in about 140 guests and about 30 employees," a spokesperson for the Carlson Rezidor group that owns the hotel told NBC News. "So the hotel is locked down and there is no possibility to go out or come in."

"As per our information the persons who have entered the building and have initiated the hostage-taking have locked the property, so it is not locked by police or other forces," the spokesperson added.

It was later reported that around 20 hostages were freed as police apparently broke into the hotel.

The luxury hotel, which has 190 rooms, is a popular site for Western officials according to French-language media.

According to the French RFI radio, the attack was launched by three assailants who entered the hotel with diplomatic cars. Security officials later indicated as many as ten jihadists were involved in the hostage crisis, and reportedly they shouted "Allahu akbar" (Allah is greater).

A security source told Reuters that some hostages were being freed, including those who are able to recite verses from the Koran, indicating the intentions to harm only non-Muslims.

Security forces have set up a cordon around the building, and a security source told AFP that "it's all happening on the seventh floor, jihadists are firing in the corridor."

Among the kidnapped was a Chinese tourist who told Xinhua through a cell phone app that he was one of several other Chinese nationals being held hostage.

Mali's capital was also targeted back in May, when a restaurant was attacked and four people were murdered, among them two Malians as well as a French and Belgian citizen.

In the town of Sevare in central Mali, jihadist terrorists in August murdered 13 people including five UN workers at a hostage crisis in a hotel.