Survivor recalls his 'very lucky' escape as deaths reach 21

The door of the lift wouldn't shut, with so many terrified people frantically trying to get in. Then came a burst of fire hitting Ali Yazbek in the neck. As he fell, he caught a glimpse of the man trying to kill him and saw a young face, wearing a baseball hat and smiling.

Mr Yazbek, lying on the ground, was resigned to being finished off. Instead, the young man began mowing down the screaming people trapped inside the lift. Only after he was fully satisfied with his work did he turn back to the 30-year-old pastry chef, and let off another round.

"I could feel the bullets brushing my face. Then I sensed he was coming towards me. I tried to ... hold my breath. I think that's what saved me. The man brushed my lips with his fingers, checking. Then he left. I am very lucky."

Mr Yazbeck lay in a corner for hours until Malian security forces, backed by French and Americans special forces, stormed the building.

He recalled an extraordinary scene: "The lift we tried to use to get away was at the back of the kitchen. I saw two of the men with guns come back into the kitchen, one was dark-skinned, the other one was quite fair.

"There was a break in the shooting. They were relaxed. One of them got a piece of meat out of freezer ... Then I watched him grill and eat it."

The death toll from the attack on the Radisson Bleu hotel in Bamako now totals 21, after two more of the injured died overnight. The Malian government, which earlier claimed that two people carried out the attack and both were killed, later confirmed that more were involved and three had escaped.

I tried to ... hold my breath. I think that's what saved me. The man brushed my lips with his fingers, checking. Then he left

Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and an affiliated group, Al-Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for the raid, which had begun with the taking of 170 hostages; they have threatened that their war will continue.

Mr Yazbek, receiving treatment in hospital, thought that more than a dozen gunmen had taken part in the assault. He was the latest person to maintain that some of the gunmen spoke English, following the same claim made by singer Sekouba "Bambino" Diabate, who was at the hotel, and two others, including a security guard. There is no history of British jihadists joining insurgencies in Francophone West Africa, although a few are in the ranks of Boko Haram in Nigeria. A larger number are with Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Fourteen different nationalities were caught up in the siege, among them American Terry Kemp, a contract employee with the US State Department. "I ran up the stairs and these guys with guns were running behind me firing. Then they threw a grenade ... I threw myself into the dining room and went under a table as fast as I could," he recounted. "They were firing over the table, shell casings were coming down and hitting me. I just knew I was dead. But they never looked under the table."

Fellow American Anita Datar,  whose former partner was once an aide to Hillary Clinton, died in the attack. A US embassy car which had arrived to pick her up at around the time the shooting began had led to reports that the jihadists used a vehicle with a diplomatic plate to gain access to the hotel.

"They came on foot, from over there. I saw them," a security guard said pointing towards an unpaved road coming up to the hotel. "Two of them had holdalls - they must have [held] the grenades which were used. Another two were at that corner. I could see them, firing towards us. At the same time, we heard firing from inside the hotel. So there were quite a few of them taking part, and some of those bastards are still out there."

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