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Gunmen hold 170 hostage at Radisson Blu hotel in Mali; 3 deaths reported

(CNN)LATEST DEVELOPMENTS:

• [8:32 a.m. ET] U.S. special operations forces are assisting with Friday's hostage situation at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali's capital, a U.S. military spokesman said. "U.S. forces have helped move civilians to secured locations as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen," said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command.

• [8:01 a.m. ET] A French gendarmerie tactical unit and a 10-member gendarmerie forensic team are heading to Mali to support Malian authorities, France's Gendarmerie Nationale said Friday via Twitter. The tactical group is part of the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group, also known as the GIGN, an elite paramilitary group trained in hostage rescue and counterterrorism operations.

• [7:56 a.m. ET] Turkish Airlines said at least seven of its employees were staying at the hotel Friday. Five are free, and two still were in the hotel as of early Friday afternoon, the airline said.

FULL STORY:

Security forces have reportedly begun a counterassault on a hotel in the capital of the West African nation of Mali, where officials say gunmen took dozens of hostages and killed at least three people Friday morning.

The situation began around 7 a.m. at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, when two or three attackers stormed the hotel, firing guns and taking a number of hostages, officials said.

By noon, at least 80 hostages had been freed, the country's state broadcaster, ORTM, reported. The hotel had 140 guests and 30 employees, hotel officials said, though Malian Security Minister Salif Traore said on ORTM that it wasn't clear how many of the guests were there at the time of the attack.

The attackers, carrying AK-47 rifles, arrived around 7 a.m. in a vehicle or vehicles with diplomatic plates, said Olivier Saldago, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Mali. Saldago said the hotel was host to a large delegation to peace talks in the country, a former French colony that has been battling Islamist extremists with the help of U.N. and French forces.

The gunmen fired as they entered the hotel, and the gunshots went on for several minutes, said witness Amadou Keita, who works at a nearby cultural center.

Two Malian nationals and a French national have died, a U.N. official said without elaborating. Two security personnel also are injured, Traore said.

Malian soldiers, with help from U.N. troops, had the hotel surrounded, a journalist for ORTM told CNN from the scene.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the incident.

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