BAMAKO - A famous Guinean singer who was among 170 people taken hostage on Friday by Islamist gunmen in the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako, said he heard attackers in the next room speaking English.
"I heard them say in English 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go'," singer Sékouba 'Bambino' Diabate, who was freed by Malian security forces, told Reuters in Conakry.
"I wasn't able to see them because in these kinds of situations it's hard."
Around 80 of 170 hostages seized when gunmen went on a shooting rampage at a luxury hotel in Mali's capital on Friday have been freed, reports AFP.
"Radisson hotel attack: special forces launched an operation, first hostages released, about 80," the state-run ORTM channel said on a scrolling banner, without specifying the source of the information.
"Our special forces have freed hostages and 30 others were able to escape on their own," Security Minister Salif Traore told AFP.
Malian security forces escort a hostage freed from the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE
Meanwhile, An elite French unit of paramilitary police specialised in hostage situations left for Mali on Friday.
around 40 paramilitary police from the GIGN unit were on their way to assist Malian security forces dealing with a hostage situation at the Radisson Blu hotel, said a ministry spokesman.
The Twitter account of the paramilitary police posted a black-and-white image of the heavily-armed, black-clad troops upon their departure.
Malian security forces prepare to transport hostages freed from the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. AFP PHOTO / HABIBOU KOUYATE
Below is a timeline of unrest in Mali since January 2012.
2012: Jihadists occupy north
January 17: Tuareg fighters from The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and other rebels, some of whom recently returned from fighting for Moamer Kadhafi in Libya, launch an offensive to seize several northern towns.
March 22: Mutinous Malian soldiers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo announce they have overthrown the Bamako government, saying it has failed to give the armed forces the means to defeat the rebellion.
March 30-April 1: Tuareg and Islamist rebels allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) capture capitals of the three northern regions: Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. Several armed groups take part in the offensive alongside the Tuareg MNLA, including the Islamist Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), Al-Qaeda offshoot MUJAO (the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), and members of AQIM. The Tuareg are quickly ousted by the Islamists, who dominate the northern region.
2013: France intervenes
January 11: The French military launch Operation Serval to back the Malian army and drive back the Islamists, who are pushing south towards Bamako.
From January 14 jihadists flee the northern cities after France carries out bombings and commits ground troops.
January 26-28: French-led troops recapture Gao and Timbuktu. On the 30th, French troops retake control of Kidal airport. The city is secured by some 1,800 Chadian troops who arrive several days later.
2014: Kidal falls into rebel hands
May 21: MNLA militants claim control of Kidal and other northern towns after fighting with the army that kills several Malian soldiers.
On May 24 the Mali government signs a ceasefire deal with three rebel groups, including the Tuareg.
July 13: Operation Serval is replaced by Operation Barkhane, a broader offensive against Islamist fighters that mobilises 3,000 French troops in five north African countries from early August.
2015: Bamako attack
March 7: An attack on a bar and restaurant in the heart of Bamako, the first targeting westerners in the capital, leaves five dead -- three Malians, one French national and a Belgian.
Al-Murabitoun, a jihadist group run by leading Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claims responsibility for the massacre.
2015: Jihadist attacks spread
July 2: Militants kill six United Nations soldiers from Burkina Faso in an ambush southwest of Timbuktu on the road to Goundam. The attack is claimed by claimed by AQIM.
The UN force, MINUSMA, is charged with overseeing a peace accord signed on May 15 by the government, then on June 20 by Tuareg-led rebels.
August 3: Around 10 soldiers are killed in an attack on their camp in the Timbuktu region, an assault claimed by AQIM.August 7: A total of 13 people die in a hostage siege at a hotel in central Mali that ends after government troops storm the building.November 20: Malian security forces storm the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako after gunmen seize 170 guests and staff in an ongoing hostage-taking that has left at least three people dead.