WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen died in the attack on a luxury hotel in Bamako, Mali, where armed Islamist militants took hostages on Friday, the U.S. State Department said.
Six Americans were recovered safely and U.S. special forces assisted in the rescue efforts, U.S. officials said earlier.
The State Department said in a statement that out of respect for the family of the victim, it had no further information for the time being.
Early on Friday morning, gunmen shouting Islamic slogans attacked the Radisson Blu hotel, which is frequented by foreigners, taking 170 people hostage in the country’s capital, Bamako. At least 27 people were reported dead after Malian commandos stormed the hotel and dozens of people were reported to have escaped or been freed.
Representatives for U.S. Africa Command said American military personnel were helping move civilians to safety as Malian forces cleared the Radisson Blu.
“Mali forces have the lead in Bamako,” Africa Command said in a tweet. “Small team of U.S. troops assisting with relocating rescued hostages.”
Army Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for Africa Command, said six Americans were recovered from the hotel and he believed all were alive.
Another defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said five U.S. Defense Department personnel were at the hotel at the time of the siege and all have been accounted for. “We have no reports of any injuries,” the official said.
One U.S. service member “who was at the location stepped in to assist first responders with moving civilians from the hotel to secure locations as Malian forces worked to clear the hotel of hostile gunmen,” the official said. “U.S. forces did not directly participate in the operation.”
A senior U.S. official said a security officer and a number of U.S. troops assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, who were in the area of the hotel at the time, were among the first on the scene.
The official said that when the U.S. security officer and troops entered the building to look for Americans inside, it was filled with smoke from a fire in the hotel kitchen.
“The first person they could not locate visually due to smoke but could hear the person,” the official said. The officers went to the third floor of the building, working their way down, helping to evacuate people.
“They could not get above the third floor initially because (attackers) had barricaded the stairs,” the official added.
The total number of U.S. citizens at the hotel during the siege was unclear.
In all, the defense official said, 22 military and civilian Pentagon employees were in Bamako at the time of the attack and all have been accounted for.
About 1,000 U.S. special forces are deployed across Africa at any given time.
A Malian official told French television station BFMTV that all remaining hostages were safe and out of the hotel.
The U.S. military was providing airlift support and aerial reconnaissance support to French forces in Mali under a 2013 agreement, Africa Command said.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is attending a regional summit in Malaysia, was briefed by his national security adviser on the Bamako situation, a White House official said on Friday.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Kuala Lumpur, and Lisa Lambert, Yeganeh Torbati, Megan Cassella and Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Martin Petty and Susan Heavey; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bill Trott and Ken Wills