Gunmen kill four guards in hotel attack in Somalia

Gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital of Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region on Wednesday, killing four guards, a senior official said.

2 of the gunmen died in the attack

A policeman stands guard along a road that was blocked amid a security lockdown in the capital, Mogadishu, on February 7. Four hotel guards were killed by al-Shabaab militants in the port city of Bosasso. (Feisal Omar/Reuters)

Gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital of Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region on Wednesday, killing four guards, a senior official said.

In a nation awash with weapons, it was not immediately clear who staged the raid in the port city of Bosasso. The official blamed al-Shabaab militants, but a spokesman for the group denied involvement.

"Three al-Shabaab fighters stormed the International Village Hotel this morning. Four guards and two of the attackers died in the fighting," Yusuf Mohamed, the governor of Bari region, told Reuters.

The hotel in the port city of Bosasso, which is also the capital of Bari region, is popular with foreigners.

"Fortunately, the attackers did not enter the rooms. The fighting took place inside the compound. A third fighter escaped and we are pursuing him. All the people in the hotel are safe," Mohamed said.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabaab's military operation spokesman, told Reuters: "We are not behind the Bosasso hotel attack. It is propaganda."

Al-Shabaab regularly launches attacks in Somalia, but tends to focus on the capital Mogadishu and other regions controlled by the federal government.

Last month, dozens were killed when gunmen attacked a hotel in the capital, Mogadishu.

People walk past a campaign poster for presidential candidate Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo on the eve of presidential elections in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Tuesday, Feb. 7. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)

Presidential election

The country faces a groundbreaking presidential election Wednesday amid a security lockdown that has closed the capital's international airport and cleared major streets.

Fears of attacks by al-Shabaab have limited the election to the country's legislators, who will vote at a heavily guarded former air force base in the capital. Rounds of voting are expected to narrow down the 22 candidates to a winner.

This Horn of Africa nation is trying to put together its first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century. Years of warlord-led conflict and al-Shabaab attacks, along with famine, left the country of about 12 million people largely shattered.

While the international community pushed Somalia to hold the election as a symbol of recovery, the vote has been marred by reports of widespread corruption.

Until 2011, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab controlled most of Somalia including the capital. In the past two years, African Union and Somali government forces have forced al-Shabaab out of important urban strongholds but it remains active from bases in rural areas.

Its militants often stage bomb and gun attacks in the capital and other regions in their quest to overthrow the Western-backed government and impose their own strict interpretation of sharia, Islamic law, on the nation.

with files from the Associated Press