BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):
An extremist group that two years ago split from al-Qaida’s North Africa branch and led by Moktar Belmoktar claimed responsibility for the attack, in a recorded statement carried by Al-Jazeera. The group said it wanted fighters freed from Mali’s prisons and for attacks against northern Malians to stop.
The group, known as the Mourabitounes, was formed in 2013 after Belmoktar left al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and fused with a Malian militant group. The statement issued Friday said the Mourabitounes had attacked in coordination with the “Sahara Emirate” affiliated with al-Qaida.
United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq says U.N. “quick-reaction forces” have been deployed to the siege area at the Radisson Blu hotel and are supporting Malian and other security forces.
But he said that U.N. peacekeeping troops are not conducting operations. He said the United Nations had a few staff members in the hotel at the time of the attack but they are all safely out.
Separately, the French Defense Ministry says a unit of French soldiers has arrived in Bamako in support of Malian security forces. It did not specify how many soldiers were involved.
France has 3,500 troops operating in Mali and four other countries in the Sahel region as part of a five-nation counterterrorism operation codenamed Barkhane.
A U.S. military official says at least six Americans have been evacuated from the Radisson Blu hotel.
U.S. military personnel already stationed in the country have been helping take people from the hotel to safety.
Col. Mark R. Cheadle, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, says the U.S. military hasn’t received any other requests for help responding to the attack, but that the United States will continue assisting the French with intelligence and surveillance in Mali.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls meanwhile is expressing his support for Mali, France’s former West African colony, saying it is a country “that fights jihadism so bravely.”
France’s national gendarme service says “about 40″ French special police forces are taking part in the assault on the Radisson Blu hotel.
A spokesman for the service who was not authorized to be publicly named said the forces are permanently based in Bamako, primarily to secure the French Embassy.
He said they are currently “playing a supporting role” alongside local security forces.
–Nicolas Vaux-Montagny in Paris
A spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command says U.S. military forces stationed in Mali are helping to secure the scene of the hotel attack in Mali.
Col. Mark R. Cheadle says American military personnel “have helped move civilians to secure locations, as Malian forces work to clear the hotel of hostile gunmen.”
U.S. State Dept. spokesman John Kirby says Americans “might be present at the hotel,” and that the U.S. Embassy in Bamako is working to verify this.
The Brussels-based Rezidor…