MOGADISHU: A car bomb went off at the gate of the beachfront Elite Hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday afternoon, Col Ahmed Hashi, a Somali police officer told the media.
AP and AFP news agencies confirmed the death of five inmates. But a Somali police officer told media at least 10 people have been killed and more than a dozen others injured in an ongoing siege at Elite Hotel where security forces are battling Islamic extremist gunmen who have invaded the building. Meanwhile, Aamin Ambulance, a Mogadishu-based private service, reported that at least 28 people were wounded.
Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab launched the attack, a spokesman for the Somali government, Ismael Mukhtar Omar, said, adding that “there is gunfire ongoing inside.” Two of the attackers have been shot dead by Somali security forces, according to Mukhtar.
Forces continue to fight the other gunmen in the hotel and are trying to gain access to the upper floors, Mukhtar said. Somalia’s Ministry of Information confirmed the death of Abdirisak Abdi, an information ministry official. He is among an unspecified number of casualties.
The Elite Hotel is regularly frequented by locals and foreigners since it is based in a heavily protected area in the city. But it is unclear if there are any foreign nationals currently staying at the hotel.
“The death toll can increase because the blast was massive and there is a hostage situation involved,” Ahmed Omar told AFP.
Reports indicate that a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonating near Elite Hotel. Clashes between security forces and militants are still on. Somalia’s homegrown extremist militants, al-Shabab, who are allied to al-Qaeda terrorist organizations, often carry out such attacks in the country’s capital.
Those in Mogadishu are advised to remain vigilant for militant activity and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities and their home governments. Security forces have so far shot dead two of the attackers in the hotel amid fears of hostage crisis inside the complex, said Ismail Mukhtar, spokesman of Somalia’s information ministry.
Military vehicles could be seen taking positions around the hotel amid the darkness of night, that officials worry could prolong the siege. Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press that the attack started with a powerful car bomb which blew off the security gates to the Elite Hotel. Then gunmen ran inside and took hostages, mostly young men and women who were dining at the hotel, he said.
Security forces rescued more than 10 people from the siege and were trying to prevent the attackers from moving up to the top floor, he said.
Ambulance sirens could be heard in the area which has had a power outage since the attack started. The hotel attack has shattered a period of calm of a few months. Earlier this year Somalia had a spate of bomb attacks.
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.
“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.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but it was similar to others carried out by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group, which is affiliated to Al-Qaeda.