Men shouting "God is great" and armed with guns and throwing grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital Friday morning and initially seized 170 hostages. "They have locked in about 140 guests and about 30 employees," a rep for the company that owns the hotel told NBC News. Malian special forces reacted quickly, and were freeing hostages "floor by floor," army commander Modibo Nama Traore tells the AP. At least 30 had been freed, and Malian security forces were trying to make contact with the assailants, he said. The US Embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an "ongoing active shooter operation" at the hotel in Bamako. People in the area ran for their lives along a dirt road as a soldier in full combat gear directed them to safety.
The Malian commander says 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages. A United Nations official tells CNN that two Malian nationals and a French citizen have been killed. The Independent puts the number of dead at five and reports that the gunmen have been releasing hostages who are able to recite verses from the Koran. Hotel guests include an Air France team and a group of UN staff members, some of whom were rescued by special forces, CNN reports. (Read more Mali stories.)