Mogadishu attacks: At least 23 dead as two car bombs hit Somali capital with gunfire heard inside hotel

A suicide car bomb exploded outside a popular hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 30 others.

The explosion was the first of a series of three blasts. A second explosion occurred near the former parliament house where military personnel were stationed and a third happened when an attacker detonated a suicide vest close to the hotel.

Police said more than 20 people, including government officials, are trapped inside the hotel where security forces are trying to end a siege of several hours by al-Shabab extremists.

The fighting continued to rage inside the hotel as security forces pursued attackers inside the Nasa-Hablod hotel which is located 600 metres from the presidential palace and is known to be frequented by politicians and members of Mogadishu’s elite.

Captain Mohamed Hussein told the Associated Press three of the five attackers were killed and others hurled grenades and cut off the hotel’s electricity as night fell.

Police officer Ali Nur told Reuters: “Security forces have entered a small portion of the hotel building…. the exchange of gunfire is hellish.”

He added that most of those killed were policemen who were stationed close to the hotel’s gate. A former lawmaker and a former government minister are also reported to have died.

The al-Shabab extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attack and said its fighters were still inside the hotel.

Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters: “We targeted ministers and security officials who were inside the hotel. We are fighting inside.”

Police said the death toll is likely to rise.

The attack in Somalia’s capital comes two weeks after more than 350 people were killed in a massive truck bombing on a busy Mogadishu street in the country’s worst-ever attack.

The extremist group al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu but it did not comment on the massive attack earlier this month.

Security officials said on this occasion the first attacker pretended his truck had broken down outside the hotel’s gates.

Police Colonel Mohamed Abdullahi said the attacker stopped outside the heavily fortified hotel and pretended to repair the truck before turning it around and detonating the explosives.

A huge cloud of smoke was seen above the scene and one Reuters witness described a dozen wrecked cars and bloodstains in front of the hotel.

Somali police officer Nur Mohamed said: “The second car bomb occurred at the ex-parliament house where there were [military] forces.”

Captain Hussein told AP that the third blast heard at the scene of the attack outside the hotel came from one of the attackers who detonated a suicide vest.

Since the blast two weeks ago, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has been visiting regional countries to seek more support for the fight against the extremist group.

A 22,000-strong multinational African Union force in Somalia is expected to withdraw its forces and hand over the country’s security to the Somali military by the end of 2020.

The US military also has stepped up military efforts against al-Shabab this year in Somalia, carrying out nearly 20 drone strikes.

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