UPDATE: UN official: At least 27 dead in hotel attackPosted: Updated:
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) - It took place on another continent -- but many in France are perceiving today's attack on a hotel in the West African country of Mali as the second one in a week to target French interests.
Islamic extremists stormed a Radisson hotel, starting a siege that continued through the day.
The death toll remains murky with France's defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying 18 people are dead at the hotel along with one Malian soldier killed in the fighting. It wasn't immediately clear if the hotel dead included the gunmen.
The French report of 19 dead is lower than the 27 dead initially reported by the U.N.
A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the operation was still ongoing, said a number of different casualty figures have been reported and the organization is working with authorities on the ground to get an exact number.
France has taken action several times in Mali, a former French colony, against Islamic extremists.
PREVIOUS: - State TV in Mali is reporting that no more hostages are being held at a luxury hotel after a day-long siege by Islamic militants.
National broadcaster ORTM, citing security officials, said 18 bodies were found at the hotel so far and that no more hostages were being held.
It was not immediately clear whether the attackers were still inside.
Gunfire continued into the late afternoon, and a Malian army commander said operations were continuing.
PREVIOUS: State TV in Mali says 80 people who were in the hotel in Bamako when the assault began have now been freed. The special forces are continuing their operation to end the standoff.
The country's army commander said special forces entered the hotel and began freeing hostages "floor by floor."
Earlier, the Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the Bamako hotel said the assailants had "locked in" 140 guests and 30 employees in the attack today. It now says 125 guests and 13 employees are still in the hotel.
Malian troops reacted quickly. As people ran for their lives near the hotel along a dirt road, the soldiers in full combat gear pointed the way to safety. Within hours, local TV images showed heavily armed troops in what appeared to be a lobby area.
PREVIOUS: The company that runs the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital says assailants have taken 170 hostages in a brazen assault involving grenades.
The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group says the assailants have "locked in" 140 guests and 30 employees.
A Malian army commander says 10 gunmen stormed the hotel this morning shouting "Allahu Akbar" or "God is great" in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages.
The U.S. and French embassies are asking their citizens to take shelter where they are in Bamako.
Following a military coup in 2012, Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali, prompting a French-led military intervention in early 2013. The extremists were scattered from northern towns and cities, though the north remains insecure and militant attacks have extended south this year.