NEW: Five foreigners have been evacuated from the hotel in Sevare, state broadcaster says
The gunmen fired and launched rockets, a witness says
At least four soldiers and one foreigner were killed, an army spokesman says
Twelve people – including five Malian soldiers – died as a result of a hostage situation and ensuing battle between the attackers and soldiers at a Mali hotel, Malian state-run broadcaster ORTM reported Saturday.
Five foreigners have been evacuated from the hotel in Sevare, in central Mali, the broadcaster said.
Earlier, a spokesman for Mali’s President told CNN that officials believed the dead included five soldiers, four attackers and three civilians, but that the toll had yet to be confirmed.
Army spokesman Col. Souleymane Maiga said at least one foreigner had been killed, among other casualties, but did not specify the foreigner’s nationality.
The soldiers stormed the hotel to end a daylong siege that started Friday when gunmen raided the hotel after attacking a military site nearby, witnesses said.
“The land operation was solely operated by the Malian forces,” Radhia Achour, a spokeswoman for MINUSMA, said after the siege ended.
The freed hostages, who hid from the attackers in the hotel, are now safe at U.N. offices in the city, she said. MINUSMA is the U.N. mission in the nation.
Military site attacked
The armed men first targeted a military site in Sevare, but Malian soldiers pushed back, sending the attackers seeking refuge in the hotel, according to the United Nations.
“The gunmen attacked the hotel with AK-47s and launched rockets while they yelled, ‘Allahu Akbar!,’” said Oumar Arby, who lives near the hotel.
Soldiers from a military camp surrounded the hotel.
“I heard gunshots and heavy explosions,” Arby said. “The fighting continued in the street and around the hotel. At one point, the Islamists retreated to the hotel and fired at the soldiers from inside.”
Militant Islamist threat
The army spokesman said the attackers were affiliated with the Macina Liberation Movement.
Human Rights Watch has described the group as Islamists who commit “serious abuses in the course of military operations against Mali’s security forces.”
It said the group had burned government buildings, downed a communication tower and threatened residents with death if they cooperate with French forces, the government or the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The United Nations sent peacekeepers to Mali in 2013 to guard against militant Islamists who threatened to move on the West African nation’s capital, Bamako.
Sevare is about 385 miles northeast of Bamako.
CNN’s Melissa Gray contributed to this report