The death toll from a hotel attack in Somalia rose to 26 on Saturday with victims including Kenyans, Tanzanians, Americans, a Briton, a Canadian as well as prominent Somali politicians.
A presidential candidate for upcoming regional elections was also killed in the siege in Kismayo city that was carried out by al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab, Jubbaland President Ahmed Mohamed said in a statement.
More than 50 people were also wounded. Police in the southern port city earlier put the toll at 13.
The attack lasted more than 14 hours before troops shot dead all attackers inside the hotel compound, Colonel Abdiqadir Nur, a local police officer, told The Associated Press.
“The operation is over. The four attackers were shot dead,” police officer Major Mohamed Abdi told Reuters news agency by telephone from Kismayo.
Al-Shabab members stormed the hotel after detonating a car bomb on Friday while local elders and legislators met to discuss approaching regional elections.
Jubbaland’s minister of planning, Just Aw Hersi, confirmed the deaths of several prominent Somalis.
“We are heartbroken by their sudden violent deaths. But rest assured, we are also as mad as hell because of it,” he tweeted.
Politicians and journalists were among the dead.
“The operation was concluded at 7am… These are the prominent people. The death toll is sure to rise,” local elder Ahmed Abdulle said.
Authorities said a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the popular Medina hotel, which was followed by a gun battle.
A journalists’ group confirmed two journalists were among the dead; Somali-Canadian Hodan Naleyah, founder of Integration TV, and Mohamed Sahal Omar, a reporter from SBC TV in Kismayo.
“We are saddened and outraged by this loss of life, and condemn in the strongest possible terms this appalling massacre,” Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu, secretary-general of the Federation of Somali Journalists, said in a statement.
The Somalia office of the UN’s International Organization for Migration said one of its local staff members, Abdifatah Mohamed, was among those killed.
SADO Somalia, a local non-governmental organisation, said on Twitter its Executive Director Abdullahi Isse Abdulle had been killed.
Security Official Abdiweli Mohamed said heavily armed attackers forced their way inside the hotel, shooting as they went.
“Several gunmen entered and started shooting but the security forces responded quickly and engaged in a gunfight with the attackers inside the building,” he said.
Al-Shabab, which is trying to topple the Somali government, said it carried out the suicide attack.
“First, we targeted [the hotel] with a suicide car bomb and then armed mujahideen [fighters] stormed the hotel,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman.
“There are many dead bodies inside the hotel, including a dead white man.”
Hussein Nur, a shopkeeper in Kismayo, said: “There were many people including officials and elders, mostly from one clan, who were discussing the coming Kismayo election.”
Nur was referring to elections in the city due sometime in August.
Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire condemned the attack, state-run Somali National News Agency said.
Al-Shabab was driven from the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011 and has since been eliminated from most of its other strongholds. In 2012, it was pushed out of Kismayo, whose port had been a major source of revenue for the group.
Outside of Kismayo, al-Shabab still controls parts of Jubbaland, a region in southern Somalia.
The armed group remains a major security threat with its fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force that helps defend the Somali government.