At least three people have died after gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako, seizing 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking.
A military spokesman confirms at least three hostages have been killed and CNN reports the victims are two Malian citizens and a French citizen.
Malian security forces are storming the hotel and have freed at least a dozen hostages after the attack on Friday (local time) by "two or three" assailants, a spokesman for the security ministry said. By noon, Mali state broadcaster ORTM reports at least 80 of the captives have been freed.
It was earlier believed as many as 10 gunmen were part of the attack on the building which launched at around 7am, shouting in Arabic and firing shots.
Among the 170 being held hostage, it is believed 20 are Indian citizens, six are Turkish Airlines staff, 12 are Air France staff and at least seven are Chinese guests.
China's state-owned Xinhua news agency has released a video reportedly filmed by a Chinese tourist taken hostage.
The US-owned hotel is also popular with American expats working in Mali and the US embassy has issued a warning to US citizens.
Some of the hostages were freed by the assailants when they were asked to recite verses of the Koran.
An AFP journalist saw three freed hostages including two women - a Turkish aviation worker and an Ivorian woman who was at the Radisson for an economic conference - who told him they had seen the body of a fair-skinned man lying on the floor of the hotel.
Five of the six Turkish Airlines staff are among those who have escaped the hotel and Air France confirms all 12 of its staff taken captive have been "extracted" from the hotel.
Automatic weapons fire could be heard from outside the 190-room hotel in the city centre, where security forces have set up a security cordon.
Security sources told AFP the gunmen were "jihadists" who had entered the hotel compound in a car that had diplomatic plates. The identities of the gunmen, or which group they are affiliated with, are not yet known.
"It's all happening on the seventh floor, jihadists are firing in the corridor," a security source told AFP earlier.
A paramedic said three security guards had been wounded, including one who was in a critical condition after being shot. A police officer has also been shot and was evacuated by security forces.
Malian soldiers, police and special forces were on the scene as a security perimeter was set up, along with members of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali and the French troops fighting jihadists in west Africa under Operation Barkhane.
The Rezidor Hotel Group, the US-based parent company of Radisson Blu, said two people were holding 170 people hostage.
The company said it was "aware of the hostage-taking that is ongoing at the property today, 20th November 2015. As per our information two persons have locked in 140 guests and 30 employees".
It added in a statement: "Our safety and security teams and our corporate team are in constant contact with the local authorities in order offer any support possible to reinstate safety and security at the hotel."
The US-owned hotel is often used by American expats working in Mali and the US embassy in Bamako tweeted that it was "aware" of the situation, urging US citizens to shelter where they are.
The British Foreign Office says they are in "close touch with the authorities following the attack".
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is in Chad for a summit of leaders from the Sahel region, is cutting his trip short and flying home, the presidency told AFP.
The shooting at the Radisson follows a nearly 24-hour siege and hostage-taking at another hotel in August in the central Malian town of Sevare in which five UN workers were killed, along with four soldiers and four attackers.
Five people, including a French citizen and a Belgian, were also killed in an attack at a restaurant in Bamako in March in the first such incident in the capital.
Islamist groups have continued to wage attacks in Mali despite a June peace deal between former Tuareg rebels in the north of the country and rival pro-government armed groups.
3 News / AFP