Mali’s president said 21 people were killed after Islamist militants attacked a hotel in the capital and took dozens of people hostage in a multihour seige that ended with Malian security forces going floor-to-floor. Two militants were among the dead.
Speaking on state television on November 20, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita also declared a state of emergency for the former French colony that has been plagued by attacks from radical Muslim groups.
More than 100 people were held hostage for several hours at the Radisson Blu in the capital, Bamako, after the militants seized the building earlier in the day.
An extremist group led by a former Al-Qaeda commander claimed responsibility for the attack.
Authorities in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk said that six employees of the Ulyanovsk-based Volga-Dnepr Airline were among those killed in the Mali attack. The city has declared a day of mourning on November 23.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the six airline employees were the only Russians killed in the incident. The previous day, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram of condolence to Malian President Keita.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said the same day that Beijing "strongly condemned" the Mali attack, in which three executives of China's state-owned railway company were killed. Four Chinese citizens were among those rescued, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
A U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Anita Ashok Datar, was also among those killed, the U.S. State Department said.
"We mourn American Anita Datar and all those lost" in the Mali attack, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry posted on his Twitter feed.
It was unclear whether the attack had any connection to last week’s terror attacks in Paris, but many in France saw it as a new assault on their country's interests. French President Francois Hollande called for solidarity with Mali.
"Once again, terrorists want to make their barbaric presence felt everywhere, where they can kill, where they can massacre," Hollande said.
Army Commander Modibo Nama Traore was quoted as saying a Malian security officer was among the dead, and that five people were injured.
Early reports said as many as 10 attackers were involved, but Traore later said there may have been only two gunmen, both of whom were killed.
Trarore said the siege began when assailants shouting "God is great!" in Arabic burst into the complex and opened fire on hotel guards.
About 170 guests and employees were initially taken hostage, but some apparently escaped or hid in the complex, which is popular with foreign tourists.
Malian soldiers later went floor by floor escorting some hostages to safety and exchange gunfire with attackers.
Traore said at least one guest reported the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Koran as proof of his Muslim faith before he was allowed to leave.
France deployed a sizable contingent of forces in 2013 after Islamic extremists seized the northern half of the country and threatened the central government.
France has 3,500 troops operating in Mali and four other countries in the Sahel region as part of a five-nation counterterrorism operation.