Written by Staff Writer
At least 31 people were killed when armed militants stormed a hotel in the central Malian town of Gao, according to local authorities.
Seven foreigners were among the victims.
Gao Mayor Mohammed Ould Cheikh Konate said al Qaeda-linked fighters attacked a hotel in the town, adding that police guards fled the scene before the assault began.
Witnesses reported hearing explosions at the hotel, a popular resort and event venue, but authorities have not provided any information.
Islamist rebels began taking hostages in November 2012. An initial attack in January 2013 killed 20 and left at least 70 wounded.
A Malian intelligence official in Gao told CNN on Friday that the police personnel who had been stationed at the hotel fled the attack before it started.
CNN iReporter and Malian refugee Houcine Djahnou-Grimadi was in his hotel room when he heard gunshots.
“One of my colleagues was there. He also heard the gunshots, so I went outside with my two brothers because I was a little bit frightened,” he said.
Djahnou-Grimadi’s brother, Mohamed, was one of the victims at the hotel.
“We’re here with the bodies of Houcine and his two brothers,” Djahnou-Grimadi said as his brother spoke.
Gunmen were seen roaming the city before dawn Saturday.
Malian authorities requested additional security reinforcements from France and other countries.
The attack was condemned by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
“By carrying out this attack, the terrorist band members, who are intent on creating divisions among brothers in Mali, are playing into the hands of those they hope to harm,” he said.
CNN’s Maimuna Ahmed and James Copnall contributed to this report.