At least three people were killed in twin car bombings in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Saturday that were claimed by Al-Shabaab Islamists, police and medics said.
Following the blasts, witnesses reported hearing gunfire and said the entire area around the Nasa Hablod Hotel 2 had been sealed off by security forces.
The twin attacks came just two weeks after a massive truck bomb exploded in central Mogadishu, killing at least 358 people, making it the deadliest attack in the troubled country’s history.
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab claimed Saturday’s bombings in a statement on its Andalus radio station, saying its fighters had forced their way into the hotel.
“The Mujahedeen fighters are inside Nasa Hablod 2 hotel where… apostate officials are staying,” said a brief statement posted on a pro-Shabaab website, quoting Andalus.
Mogadishu’s Aamin ambulance service has so far removed three bodies from the scene and evacuated 17 wounded, its director Abdukadir Abdurahman told AFP.
“A car loaded with explosives went off at the entrance of Nasa Hablod Hotel and there is gunfire,” police official Ibrahim Mohamed told AFP, saying there was also “a minibus loaded with explosives which went off a nearby intersection”.
An AFP correspondent at the scene also reported seeing two people lying on the ground but their condition was not immediately clear.
Mohamed Ahmed Mohamud, who drives a tuktuk taxi told AFP he saw a soldier stopping a car near the hotel when the blast went off.
“I was driving in front of the hotel, a soldier talked to small luxury car then a big blast went off. Two female passengers were on board, but now I don’t know where they have gone,” he said.
GUNFIRE IN HOTEL
“We can hear the gunfire but it is difficult to know who is fighting, the forces cordoned off the building and no one can go close to it,” said a witness called Abdulahi Nure.
A taxi driver at the scene told AFP he saw four bodies being carried away, while another witness called Yusuf Moalim said a senior police official appeared to be among the victims, whose car had been near the hotel entrance when the blast occurred.
The Nasa Hablod 2 is a popular hotel located in the north of the city whose sister hotel, the Nasa Hablod, was hit by Shabaab militants in June 2016, in an attack that killed 11 people, including a junior minister.
That attack also began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car outside the hotel which was then stormed by gunmen, provoking an assault that lasted several hours and only ended when Special Forces killed three attackers inside.
Al-Shabaab lost their foothold in Mogadishu in 2011 but have continued their battle to overthrow the Somali government, launching regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in the capital and elsewhere.