REUTERS/AP - Four people held in a hotel in central Mali after an attack by Islamic extremists were freed Saturday following a long standoff with the army and special forces that left 12 people dead, Mali's defense ministry adviser said.
After the operation ended four additional bodies were found in the Hotel Byblos in the town Sevare, including three hotel staff and one jihadi, said Lt. Col. Diarran Kone. Officials had earlier announced that five Malian soldiers were killed, two jihadis and a UN contractor, bringing the total death toll to 12.
"The operation ended around 5 a.m. Four hostages were freed and four bodies found," he said. "The operation was led by Mali's gendarmerie with our partners." He did not give the nationalities of the freed hostages or the dead.
UN mission in Mali spokeswoman Radhia Achouri said the four freed were United Nations employees. She would not give their nationalities, but said they will eventually be flown to the Malian capital Bamako.
Ukraine and Russia previously confirmed that their citizens were among the hostages. On Saturday Russian news agencies, citing a press attache at Moscow's embassy in Mali, said a Russian hostage who works for the airline UTair was among those freed.
South African and French nationals are also believed to be staying at the hotel, Malian military officials have said.
Gunmen attacked the Byblos Hotel used by UN staff in the town of Sevare, around 600 km (400 miles) northeast of the capital Bamako, early on Friday.
They killed at least six people, including five government soldiers and an employee with Mali's MINUSMA UN peacekeeping mission, and held off attempts to dislodge them during the ensuing stand-off.
Three attackers, one strapped with explosives, were also killed.
The attack well south of the Islamic militants' Saharan desert strongholds highlights the threat posed by remnants of an Al-Qaida-linked insurgency that appears to be stepping up a campaign against Malian troops and United Nations personnel.
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