BAMAKO, Mali (WABC) -- Family members say an American who was killed in a terror attack in a hotel in Mali lived in Maryland and worked for an international development agency.
Anita Datar's loved ones say she was in Mali doing what she loved, helping others in impoverished countries.
She was tragically killed in this latest terrorist attack which Al Qaeda is claiming responsibility for, just one week after ISIS attacked Paris.
"She was an amazing person, sweet and kind and gentle. All she ever wanted to do was help people. Nobody can say anything bad about her," said Tara Elms Henderson, a friend.
Henderson was devastated after learning her close high school friend Anita Datar is among the dozens of people killed in a terror attack at a hotel in Mali.
41-year-old Datar grew up in Monmouth County, New Jersey and graduated from Mount Olive High School.
She earned her undergraduate degree at Rutgers University and two masters degrees from Columbia University in public health and public administration.
For the past 15 years, she was living in Washington, but traveled the world, going where help was most needed, improving public health in underdeveloped countries.
Henderson says even as a teenager, she knew Datar would go on to do big things.
"Bright, when we were in school she was always at the top of the class. Everyone always wanted to be around her. She had no enemies," Henderson said.
In a statement her family said, "We are devastated that Anita is gone-it's unbelievable to us that she has been killed in this senseless act of violence and terrorism... And while we are angry and saddened that she has been killed, we know that she would want to promote education and healthcare to prevent violence and poverty at home and abroad, not intolerance."
In the late 90's Datar worked in Senegal for two years with the Peace Corps.
She was a Senior Manager at Palladium Group, an international development firm.
Her work focused on public health, family planning, and HIV.
Datar was killed as attacker armed with weapons and grenades stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital, firing at guests and workers.
Witnesses say they shouted "God is great" in Arabic as they took 140 guests and 30 employees hostage.
Secretary of State John Kerry is offering "deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and injured" in the assault.
Kerry says the U.S. Embassy in Bamako stands ready "to provide support to the Malian government in the investigation" of the incident.
He says, "These terrorist attacks will only deepen our shared resolve to fight terrorism."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
1 American among at least 20 killed in attack at hotel in Mali