UN Peacekeeping Mali
UN peacekeepers patrol in Kidal, MaliReuters/Adama Diarra

Three Russian pilots have reportedly been kidnapped in Mali after radical Islamist gunmen raided a hotel killing seven people, including four local soldiers.

Early Friday (7 August) the gunmen attacked the Byblos hotel near the city of Mopti. The hotel is close to the airport and known for hosting guests from Western nations.

Guests included military officers and nationals from France, Ukraine, and South Africa, a Malian military spokesman told Reuters. United Nations staff use the hotel as a base to support their peace-keeping operations in the country.

"The toll has increased and now there are seven dead, including four Malian soldiers, two terrorists and one foreigner. Three Russian pilots are believed to have been kidnapped," spokesman Souleymane Maiga said in a txt message sent to Reuters Africa.

Ukraine's ambassador to Senegal said he believes Ukrainian nationals may be among the hostages, rather than Russians. Members of the Ukrainian military are currently part of a UN peace force in Mali.

The gunmen and Malian army officers exchanged fire and one of the attackers, a man wearing an explosives belt, was shot dead. Last Saturday, (1 August), two local soldiers were killed and five injured when gunmen attacked a convoy they were riding in.

The extremist group Ansar Dine has taken credit for recent attacks in Mali.