Security forces have begun a counter-assault on a Malian hotel where gunmen took more than 100 hostages Friday morning, French President Francois Hollande told reporters in Paris on Friday afternoon.

The situation began around 7 a.m. at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, when two or three attackers stormed the hotel, firing guns and initially taking about 170 people hostage, officials said. At least three deaths were reported.

Two armed men initially locked in about 140 guests and 30 employees at the Radisson Blu, hotel officials said. By noon, the country’s state broadcaster, ORTM, reported that at least 80 of the hostages had been freed.

The attackers, carrying AK-47s, 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.

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

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