Militant Islamists in Somalia have been involved in a gun battle with security forces at a hotel in the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab said it was behind the attack at the Afrik Hotel, which began with a car bomb on Sunday afternoon.
It is not yet confirmed how many casualties there are, but the AFP news agency reported at least three deaths. The group, which is linked to al-Qaeda, regularly carries out attacks against the government, a car hit the hotel’s front entrance and detonated before gunmen stormed the building, according to officials and others at the scene.
“The blast made the hotel tremble as we sat inside and were talking. We were panicked, confused,” eyewitness Ahmed Nur was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. Senior national security official Mohamed Dahir told AFP that two civilians and a security guard were confirmed dead, “but the death toll could be higher”.
The militants targeted the Afrik Hotel despite the fact that it is in a heavily guarded area near the city’s main airport. The hotel is known to be a gathering place for Somali government officials, a local police captain said a number of lawmakers and senior military officials were inside at the time of the attack. Footage on social media showed large plumes of smoke rising across the city earlier on Sunday.
The violent siege comes just weeks after former US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of some 700 troops who had been supporting local security forces against militant groups, including al-Shabab. There are fears the withdrawal could lead to further instability in the country, which is due to hold elections next month.