The gunmen had seized about 170 hostages this morning at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Military commander Modibo Naman Traore told The Associated Press that about 20 hostages were freed later in the morning.

It was not immediately clear why the group was freed or how many exactly remained held by the militants. Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel shouting 'Allahu Akbar', or 'God is great', in Arabic before firing on the guards and taking hostages.

Some guests also have been able to escape the hotel. Monique Kouame Affoue Ekonde, an Ivorian, said she and six other people were escorted out by security forces.

Security sources in Mali said jihadists had launched a shooting rampage in the 190-room hotel and automatic weapons fire could be heard from outside the building.

Islamist groups have continued to wage attacks in Mali despite a June peace deal between former Tuareg rebels in the north of the country and rival pro-government armed groups.

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