At least three people, including two civilians, were killed in a jihadist attack on Sunday at a Mogadishu hotel, a Somali security source said, adding that the death toll could rise with attackers still inside.
The attack began Sunday afternoon when a car bomb exploded at the entrance to Hotel Afrik, located in the center of the Somali capital and near the city’s airport. Gunmen then stormed the hotel, exchanging fire with security personnel.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief statement, saying: “Mujahideen stormed an ongoing operation inside Hotel Afrik where members of the defunct team are stationed.”
The hotel is visited by Somali officials, members of the security forces and community leaders.
“We believe there are three terrorists trapped inside a room in the lower part of the main building,” Dahir said.
“But unfortunately, there are still civilians trapped inside the building even though many of them, including senior military officials, have been rescued and extracted from the building,” he added.
Two witnesses said they saw three bodies, those of two men and a woman.
A police spokesman, Sadik Dudishe, said police “immediately entered the building” at the start of the attack and rescued “most” of those inside, adding: “The operation is still ongoing.”
An AFP journalist previously reported that Somali soldiers quickly surrounded the hotel and blocked access to it.
Witnesses confirmed a massive explosion followed by smoke after a car crashed into the hotel entrance at high speed, followed by gunfire.
“There was another explosion after the first big one,” said Osman Saadaq, a witness.
Late Sunday, witnesses said they could still hear sporadic shots and explosions, possibly by grenades.
Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab has carried out a violent uprising in the Horn of Africa and sought to oust the internationally backed government in Mogadishu.
They were driven out of Mogadishu by government forces with the support of 20,000 African Union peacekeepers in 2011.
But the group still controls parts of the territory outside the cities, from where they launch attacks on government targets, as well as sometimes crossing the border to conduct raids in Kenya.
Al-Shabaab has intensified its attacks in Kenya in recent years, including several major abuses as far as the capital Nairobi, which has left nearly 300 dead.
Somalia was scheduled to hold indirect parliamentary and presidential elections before February 8, but the process has been derailed by political disagreements between the central government of Mogadishu and its federal states.