Somalia hotel hit by explosion and gunfire; casualties expected
Rebel group Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack
A suspected suicide car bomb exploded on Sunday in Somalia's capital and was followed by a shootout between militants and security forces at a hotel, causing an unknown number of casualties, witnesses and authorities said.
A vehicle loaded with explosives crashed into the entrance gate of the Afrik Hotel, near Mogadishu's strategic K-4 junction, on Sunday afternoon, police spokesperson Sadiq Adan Ali said.
A number of armed gunmen then quickly invaded the hotel, opening fire on staff and patrons inside, he said. Government forces responded to the attack, and gunfire could be heard coming from the hotel. Police rescued many people from the hotel, including its owner and an army general.
At least seven wounded civilians could be seen, although police did not immediately give casualty figures.
"The blast made the hotel tremble as we sat inside and were talking. We were panicked, confused," witness Ahmed Nur said, adding that he escaped via a ladder down a wall. "I jumped down and ran."
Al-Shabaab, Somalia's homegrown jihadist rebel group, claimed responsibility for the attack through its Andalus radio station.
"We know, they have changed nothing from their usual tactic, ramming explosives into a building and following up, assaulting with rifles," Ali said.
There was no immediate word from Somali officials or the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, which supports the government against al Shabaab.
In a separate incident, at least eight children have died and scores of others were wounded when a bomb went off in the Golweyn area, about 40 kilometres north of the coastal town of Merca, some 120 kilometres south of Mogadishu.
With files from Reuters