Several hostages, including a number of foreigners, are being held in a standoff in central Mali after gunmen stormed a hotel amid shootout with soldiers that left at least eight people dead.
A Ukrainian hostage managed to escape from the "four or five terrorists" who were still barricaded inside the hotel in Sevare, telling soldiers that he had been with three South Africans and a Russian when the shooting began.
Three bodies were still lying next to a burned-out minibus at the entrance to the hotel, military sources said, as night fell.
"The hostage taking is still going on. The death toll now is three dead soldiers and four wounded," the source said Friday evening. "Two terrorists have also been killed and there are three bodies lying in front of the hotel next to a burned-out minibus."
It is unclear who the foreigners being held at the Byblos hotel are. The hotel is popular with both foreign visitors and troops.
The governments of Russia and Ukraine confirmed earlier they each had a national among the hostages.
French President Francois Hollande said French citizens could also "possibly" be caught up in the attack, without giving further details. There was no information on Malian hostages.
A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Mali told RIA Novosti state news agency the mission had been informed of the Russian's presence by local authorities.
"It is a member of staff of UTAir, that's all I can say," he said, referring to an aviation company which works with the UN mission MINUSMA. "As far as we know, there are several gunmen there who are holding this hotel," the diplomat added, while saying it was unclear whether the hostages were being held at gunpoint or the attackers were merely "sheltering there".
Situated only a few kilometres from the regional capital Mopti, Sevare, which has an airbase, is a key staging post on the road to Mali's desert north which fell to Islamist extremists in 2012.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the morning attack, and no official comment from the government of the west African country, which is facing a resurgence in jihadist violence, two years after a French-led offensive routed three Islamist factions from most areas under their control.
A Malian security source said the raid was a failed bid to kidnap Russians working as UN peacekeepers, who escaped unharmed.