One hotel guest, Guinean singer Sekouba Bambino Diabate, told Reuters news agency he heard the attackers speaking English.
"I heard them say in English, 'Did you load it?', 'Let's go,'" Diabate said.
Youssouf Tolo, a hotel cook, said he arrived just as the attack was beginning. "I saw people running. They said, 'There's an attack! There's an attack!'" he said.
Tolo ran downstairs and hid in the basement with colleagues, until someone ran in shouting, "Save yourself!" The group ran upstairs and managed to escape from the lobby while the gunmen were on the upper floors.
About a dozen Americans escaped from the hotel, including several U.S. embassy employees, said John Kirby, a State Department spokesman. Five Defense Department personnel also made it out safely, according to U.S. officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the incident.
Mark R. Cheadle, spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, said American troops did not directly participate in the operation to end the assault. But one U.S. special operations forces service member, who was at the hotel at the time, helped first responders move civilians to secure locations while Malian troops went after the gunmen.