At least five people were killed on Sunday when gunmen stormed an upscale beachfront hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, following a car bomb outside, in an attack reminiscent of others carried out by Al-Shabaab militants, a government security official and witnesses said.
The government did not immediately provide information on casualties, although Aamin Ambulance, a Mogadishu-based private service, reported that 28 people were wounded, AFP news agency reported.
“There was a car bomb blast targeting Elite Hotel at Lido beach. There is heavy gunfire in the building,” said Adan Ibrahim, a police officer in the area.
Witnesses confirmed that the attack began with a heavy explosion and that people were running from the area as gunfire could be heard from the hotel, which is frequented by government officials.
“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 exchange of gunfire is terrible and stray bullets reached us near the beach,” Mohamed Nur, a government worker said.
Somalia plunged into chaos after the 1991 overthrow of then-president Siad Barre’s military regime, leading to years of clan warfare followed by the rise of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabab militant group which once controlled large parts of the country and Mogadishu.
Since 2008, Al Shabab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally recognised central government and establish its rule based on its own interpretation of Islamic law.
The militants were driven out of the capital in 2011 but continue to wage war against the government, carrying out regular attacks.
Last week four Shabab fighters held in Mogadishu’s central prison were killed in a shootout with security forces after they somehow managed to get their hands on weapons.