Gunmen take hostages after Somalia hotel blast

An armed member of the militant group al-Shabab attends a rally on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (File, AP)
An armed member of the militant group al-Shabab attends a rally on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (File, AP)

Mogadishu - Gunmen who stormed a hotel in Somalia's capital have taken an unknown number of hotel guests hostage, police said on Saturday, as the attackers set up snipers on the rooftop and were throwing grenades.

Captain Mohamed Hussein said some attackers had moved to the second floor and were using machine guns to resist security forces.

Police said the attack on the Nasa-Hablod hotel in Mogadishu began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at its gate. Gunmen fought their way inside, and a witness said they began shooting randomly at hotel guests.

Hussein said security forces have killed two of the attackers.

He also said he saw four bodies, thought to be civilians, lying outside the hotel.

It was not known how many attackers entered the hotel, nor how many guests were inside.

Ramadan attacks

The attackers "took positions behind blast walls and sandbags; fighting is still ongoing", Hussein said, as gunfire could be heard in the background.

A witness, Ali Mohamud, said the attackers randomly shot at guests. "They were shooting at everyone they could see. I escaped through the back door," he said.

Yusuf Ali, an ambulance driver, said that he evacuated 11 people injured in the attack to hospitals.

"Most of them were wounded in crossfire," he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. The Somalia-based, al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab extremist group has been waging a deadly insurgency across large parts of Somalia and often employs suicide car bomb attacks to penetrate heavily fortified targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

In early June, an overnight siege by extremist gunmen at another hotel in the capital killed least 15 people, including two members of parliament. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for that attack.

The latest attack comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which extremists often step up attacks in this volatile East African country.

The assaults in the seaside capital have highlighted the challenges facing the Somali government and African Union forces that are struggling to secure the country. An attack on another Mogadishu hotel and public garden in February killed at least nine civilians. A car bomb outside a restaurant in the capital in April killed at least five.

The al-Shabaab insurgents have been ousted from most of Somalia's cities but continue to carry out bombings and suicide attacks.

The African Union force faces shrinking resources after the European Union recently cut its funding to the AU mission in Somalia by 20%.

Citing that cut, Uganda's military chief said on Friday his country plans to withdraw its more than 6 000 troops from the AU force in Somalia by December 2017. The Ugandans are the largest troop contingent.

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