Somalia’s parliament has announced the postponement of a scheduled session as reports continued of gunfire being heard inside a besieged Mogadishu hotel.
Gunfire was heard from the Villa Rose hotel, near the presidential residence, on Monday, a nearby resident and a police officer said.
The Villa Rose was invaded on Sunday by fighters from al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked armed group, using guns and explosives, with a police officer saying at the time that some government officials escaped from its windows.
“There is still heavy gunfire inside the hotel and we hear explosions from time to time … we are still in our houses since last night, when the siege started,” Ismail Haaji, who lives near the hotel, told Reuters.
Special forces units, known as Gaashaan and Haramcad, had taken over operations, a police officer at the scene said on condition of anonymity.
“The fighters who launched the attack are still fighting inside the hotel, and they are fighting with the forces of Haramcad and Gaashaan, and security forces are trying to rescue the people trapped inside the hotel,” the officer added.
The number of casualties from the siege and the number of people rescued was not yet clear.
Government officials in Mogadishu frequently use the Villa Rosa hotel for meetings.
Somalia’s environment minister Adam Aw Hirsi tweeted that he survived the attack, saying the attack on the hotel began with a deafening explosion by a suicide bomber who was followed by gunmen on foot to breach the perimeter of the heavily guarded hotel.
“I had exited the hotel mosque where we performed the evening prayer in congregation when the exposition hit. The roof of the VIP room I was in flew and glasses shattered far and wide,” Hirsi said, describing the scene of the attack.
“Then bullets rained in all directions,” he said, adding that he, a friend and another minister fled the building through a back exit. “Many people followed us to the exit, we broke the door with collective kicks and we exited to safety,” he said.
Asked what the government would do next, he said there was no turning back and the government would “not let up the fight”.
Somalia’s parliament said it had postponed a scheduled session for both of its houses.
“All members of parliament of both councils are being informed that today’s scheduled meeting has been postponed,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Al-Shabab, which is seeking to topple the government and establish its own rule based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, frequently stages attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected this year, has launched a military offensive against the group.