MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Al-Shabab militants blasted their way into a Mogadishu hotel on Friday and took up positions inside, killing at least nine people and exchanging fire with security forces seeking to recapture the facility, a Somali police official said.
One survivor who made it safely outside the Maka Al-Mukarramah hotel in the Somali capital said the militants were killing anyone they could find inside. He did not give his name.
The attack started when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car at the gate of the hotel. Gunmen then quickly moved in, Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press from the scene of the attack.
Hours later, the militants were still holed up in the hotel's dark alleys and rooms. Sporadic gunfire could be heard, but it appeared that the security forces would wait until daybreak before trying again to dislodge the militants.
At least four gunmen trapped an unknown number of people inside the building, Hussein said. He said he had counted at least nine bodies, but the death toll was likely to rise.
Al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group that has carried out many attacks in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the assault on the hotel, which is popular with Somali government officials and foreigners.
Somali special forces trained their weapons on the hotel's windows as gunfire rang out from inside. Some survivors jumped out of the hotel's windows. One bloodied government soldier, wounded from fighting, was dragged out by colleagues and bundled into an ambulance, according to Hussein.
It remained unclear who was being targeted by the militants and how many civilians were inside the hotel.
Somalia has been trying to rebuild following years of political instability and civil strife since 1991, when the dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power.
But al-Shabab routinely carries out suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks in Mogadishu, the seat of Somalia's Western-backed government — often targeting government troops, lawmakers and foreigners.
Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia's capital and other major cities by African Union forces. Despite major setbacks in 2014, al-Shabab continues to wage a deadly insurgency against Somalia's government and remains a threat in the East African region.
The group has carried out attacks in neighboring countries, including Kenya, whose military is part of the African Union troops bolstering Somalia's weak government.
At least 67 people were killed in a September 2013 attack by al-Shabab on a mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.