MOGADISHU - At least five people were killed Sunday (Aug 16) when gunmen stormed an upscale beachfront hotel in Somalia’s capital following a car bomb blast outside, in an attack reminiscent of others carried out by Al-Shabaab militants, a government security official told AFP.
“There is still sporadic gunfire and the initial information we have received indicates five people died and more than 10 others were wounded. The death toll can increase because the blast was massive and there is a hostage situation involved,” Ahmed Omar told AFP.
The government did not immediately provide information on casualties, although Aamin Ambulance, a Mogadishu-based private service, reported that 28 people were wounded.
“There was a car bomb blast targeting Elite Hotel at Lido beach. There is heavy gunfire in the building,” said police officer Adan Ibrahim, who was in the area.
State news agency SONNA reported that Islamist group al Shabaab had attacked with a car bomb at the hotel entrance and armed militants. It said gunfire was coming from inside the hotel and that government security forces had been deployed.
“There are deaths and injuries of civilians who were passing near the hotel and others who were inside the hotel. Among the dead is one director of the information ministry,” SONNA said, citing information ministry spokesman Ismail Mukhtar Omar.
Witnesses confirmed that the attack began with a heavy explosion and reported that people were running from the area as gunfire could be heard from the hotel, which is frequented by government officials and people from the diaspora .
“The blast was very heavy and I could see smoke in the area. There is chaos and people are fleeing from nearby buildings,” said witness Ali Sayid Adan.
The government has deployed security forces at Lido beach, a resident near the beach told Reuters.
"The exchange of gunfire is terrible and stray bullets reached us near the beach," said Mohamed Nur, a government worker.
Somalia has been embroiled in deadly violence since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew leader Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Since 2008, Al-Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally-recognised central government and establish its rule based on its own interpretation of Islamic Syariah law.
Al-Shabaab were driven out of the capital in 2011, but its militants continue to wage war against the government, carrying out regular attacks.
Last week four Al-Shabaab fighters held in Mogadishu’s central prison were killed in an intense shootout with security forces after they somehow managed to get their hands on weapons within the facility.