A terror attack is underway at a luxury resort frequented by tourists in Mali, with casualties and hostages reported.
Security forces said operations against an unknown number of gunmen at Le Campement, outside the capital Bamako, are ongoing.
“Security forces are in place. Campement Kangaba is blocked off and an operation is under way,” said Malian security ministry spokesman Baba Cisse.
A spokesperson for the government described the attackers as “suspected jihadis”, while the EU Training Mission in Mali described the incident as a terror attack and said it was assisting local forces.
The rural resort – popular with Western tourists, expats and locals – offers luxury accommodation, a spa and three swimming pools, as well as running excursions and sports for guests.
Like the majority if hotels around Bamako, visitors undergo mandatory security checks by guards upon entry, according to online reviews.
Le Campement sits in Dougourakoro on the outskirts of the city, where the Radisson Blu hotel was the target of a previous terror attack that left more than 20 people dead in November 2015.
In pictures: Mali Radisson hotel attack
It was one of a series of shootings and bombings to sweep the country as part of an ongoing insurgency by Islamist militants in the north, which has worsened in recent months.
The US Embassy in Mali released a warning over an “increased threat of attacks” in Mali last week, listing diplomatic missions, places of worship and “other other locations in Bamako where Westerners frequent” among potential targets.
“Avoid vulnerable locations with poor security measures in place, including hotels, restaurants, and churches,” said a statement released on 9 June.
The US warns its citizens against all travel to Mali, while the British Government advises against all travel to northern areas and “all but essential travel” to Bamako and the south.
French troops are supporting Malian government forces, while the violence has made the UN peacekeeping mission in the country the deadliest in the world.
Emmanuel Macron visited the northern former militant stronghold of Gao during his first foreign trip as President in May.
He reinstated France’s commitment to supporting its former colony, saying his government would be “uncompromising” in the fight against terrorists.
Despite the deployment of 11,000 peacekeepers since France’s first intervention in 2013 and an ongoing state of emergency, Islamist groups have been re-gaining strength in recent months, launching a series of attacks on the military as they push south.
Monitors have warned of a deteriorating situation for civilians living under the brutal rule of extremist militias, carrying out stonings, executions and violently enforcing Sharia law amid continued struggles with poverty and starvation.
Al-Qaeda linked jihadi factions hold large swathes of desert in northern Mali, after hijacking an uprising by ethnic Tuareg rebels who launched an advance in 2012, bolstered by the free flow of militants and weapons from the Libyan civil war.
The latest alliance to form is Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims or al-Qaeda in Mali), which incorporates al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine and the Macina Liberation Front.
Among its leading figures is Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian leader of al-Mourabitoun and AQIM’s former military commander, who has been linked to terror attacks in Mali, Algeria, Niger and Burkina Faso.
The terrorist commander has been the target of numerous military operations and foreign air strikes, but has not been confirmed dead.
Additional reporting by agencies