RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're tracking a hostage situation in Mali this morning. Two gunmen took over an upscale hotel - the Radisson Blu - in the capital Bamako. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is following this story from London. And, Ofeibea, good morning, and what do we know?
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Hi, Renee, we're being told that Malian forces have stormed the Radisson Blu in the city. And, as you've said, these Islamist gunmen have been holding apparently 170 people hostage. Renee, unconfirmed, but a Malian official source saying three of the hostages have been killed - yet to be confirmed. At least 10 to 20 others have been freed. Now, let me just take you back to early this morning. The gunmen - two we're told, but now some reports are saying more arrived at the hotel, apparently perhaps in a vehicle that had diplomatic number plates, shouting Islamist slogans and forcing their way into the hotel, which they stormed. Now, that is significant because Mali has been under the threat of disparate Islamist groups, who, in 2012, seized control of the northern part of the country, including historic Timbuktu, and held it for almost a year until Malian forces, assisted by French troops - and Mali is a former French colony - drove them out of their strongholds there because they were moving down to the center. So although nobody has yet claimed responsibility, you have any number of groups who could be responsible for this hostage taking. It's an upscale hotel, and foreigners are obviously targeted, quite often if possible.
MONTAGNE: Well, just coming out now is a pretty simple piece of news. President Hollande has said - French President Hollande has said everything's being done to free the hostages. This is a place very connected to France.
QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, yes, all of France's former colonies are connected. And Mali is no exception. And remembering, as I've said, that it was the French troops who led this offensive against the Islamist extremists who were calling for Sharia, strict Islamic law, to be imposed in Mali. They want to create a caliphate. They are affiliated to groups like al-Qaida in the region. And, of course, Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group that has been terrorizing northeastern Nigeria, we were told that some of their fighters were part of the occupation of northern Mali, and, of course, they have now pledged allegiance to Islamic State. So this is a problem not only for Mali but for the whole of the Saharan Desert region from Senegal in the far west to Nigeria. And they all are feeling under threat by Islamist groups who say these mainly Muslim countries are not practicing true Islam. But you have many Malians, Senegalese and many others who say they don't speak for us. We don't agree with them. They must be driven out.
MONTAGNE: So with the few seconds we have left, any sense of what will be happening?
QUIST-ARCTON: I should think panic amongst many Malians. We have had another incident in Sevare last year where five U.N. peacekeepers - where five U.N. workers were killed, and in Bamako in March, foreigners killed at a restaurant in a first ever such attack in the city, so real concern amongst Malians and the region.
MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thanks. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking to us from London where she's following this story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.