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BAMAKO, Mali — An al Qaeda-linked extremist group has claimed responsibility for the deadly hotel attack in Mali's capital on Friday that killed at least 20 people, including one American.
Al-Mourabitoun, a group formed by notorious Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar, alleged it was behind the siege and said it was done in cooperation with al Qaeda in the Great Sahara region in a statement translated by Flashpoint Intelligence, a security consulting firm and NBC News partner.
There has been no official acknowledgment of the claim of responsibility from Mali or other countries.
The claim came as security forces hunted "more than three" suspects and the government in Mali declared a state of emergency.
"The search has started and I can tell you that we are looking for more than three people at the moment," the country’s military commander Maj. Modibo Nama Traore told The Associated Press.
Heavily-armed attackers shouting "God is great!" in Arabic burst into Radisson Blu in Bamako on Friday, seizing dozens of hostages and sparking an hours-long siege by troops backed by U.S. and French special forces.
Hostages trickled out slowly during the siege as security forces worked to secure the hotel floor by floor. At least one guest reported the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Quran as proof of his Muslim faith before he was allowed to leave.
Among the victims was Anita Ashok Datar, a former Peace Corps Volunteer who was born in Massachusetts and raised in New Jersey.
Shattered glass was still strewn around the scene of the terror attack early Saturday.
The U.S. press attache to Mali told NBC News that all the American survivors have been accounted for and are at the U.S. Embassy.
Speaking to reporters after visiting the scene, Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said the attack underscored the global threat posed by Islamic extremists, especially coming just one week after teams of attackers in Paris killed 130 people while targeting a stadium, a concert hall and cafes and restaurants.
"These people have attacked Paris and other places. Nowhere is excluded," Keita said, adding that Mali would still remain open to the world. "Mali is not a closed area and it never will be."
A 10-day state of emergency was declared in the former French colony overnight, with flags flying at half-mast.
Paul Folmsbee, the U.S. Ambassador to Mali, condemned the attack in a statement.
"We know that the Malian people join us in denouncing these savage acts of terrorism, and the United States stands with them in their efforts to ensure a peaceful, secure, and prosperous Mali."
Northern Mali has been unstable since it fell to Tuareg separatists and Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. Despite a French-led military intervention in 2013 that drove the extremists from cities and towns, attacks have continued and extended farther south this year, including an assault on a Bamako restaurant popular with foreigners in March.
The attack may have been motivated by a desire to disrupt a fragile local peace process that has made progress in recent months, Jean-Herve Jezequel, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, said in an interview posted to the group's website Friday night.
Alastair Jamieson reported from London.