At least 10 people were reported dead after gunmen stormed a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, officials and local media have said, with security forces battling to end the 20-hour siege of the popular hotel.
Gunmen stormed the Hayat Hotel, which is known to be frequented by government officials, on Friday evening in a hail of gunfire and bomb blasts.
The al-Shabab armed group claimed responsibility for the attack – the first since the election of Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in May.
Hussein Mohamed, a freelance journalist reporting from outside the hotel in Mogadishu, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that gunfire could still be heard coming from inside the building, and the attackers and government security forces sent to retake the hotel appeared to be at an impasse.
At least 10 people have been killed in the attack on the hotel, which was very popular with politicians, Mohamed said by telephone from the Somali capital.
“Al-Shabab already claimed responsibility for the attack saying they held hostage several politicians. They did not mention the names of the officials, but the group often carries out such attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and many parts of the country,” Mohamed told Al Jazeera.
The attack comes as government forces have stepped up operations against al-Shabab, and as Somalia’s President Mohamud has promised to eliminate the armed group, Mohamed said. The al-Shabab leadership has also promised to topple Mohamud’s government, he added.
Security official Mohamed Abdikadir told the AFP news agency on Saturday that dozens of civilians, including children, who were trapped in the building had been rescued.
“The security forces continued to neutralise terrorists who have been cordoned inside a room in the hotel building, most of the people were rescued but at least eight civilians were confirmed dead so far,” he said.
There was no immediate information on the identities of the victims.
The director of Mogadishu’s main trauma hospital, Mohamed Abdirahman Jama, said the facility was treating at least 40 people wounded in the hotel attack and a separate mortar strike on another area of the capital.
A police officer, who only gave his name as Ahmed, said that in the initial attack two car bombs had exploded – one at a barrier near the hotel and the other at the building’s gate. The assault triggered a fierce gunfight between security forces and the gunmen as they holed themselves up inside the building.
Dozens of people have been gathering outside the hotel to discover the fate of loved ones caught up inside.
“We have been looking for a relative of mine who was trapped inside the hotel, she was confirmed dead together with six other people, two of them I know,” witness Muudey Ali told AFP.
Al-Shabab has been fighting to topple the Somali government for more than 10 years. It wants to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Police officers were conducting an operation aimed at stopping the attack, the state-run Somali National News Agency said on its Twitter account, citing a police spokesperson. The agency posted a picture showing smoke billowing from above the scene.
#UPDATE: The unsung heroes of Somali Police Special Unit have rescued many people from #Hayat Hotel in #Mogadishu as the security forces are dealing with terrorist incident. #Somalia pic.twitter.com/MDCG4j5EuC
— SONNA (@SONNALIVE) August 19, 2022
Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 al-Shabab fighters in an air raid in the central-southern part of the country as the group was attacking Somali forces.
The US has carried out several air raids on the group’s fighters in recent weeks.
Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the past. In August 2020, the group said it was behind a raid on another hotel in Mogadishu, in which at least 16 people were killed.
Al-Shabab fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but the armed group still controls vast swaths of countryside.