A suicide car bomb exploded outside a popular hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 30 others.
The explosion was the first of a series of three blasts. A second explosion occurred near the former parliament where military personnel were stationed and a third happened when an attacker detonated a suicide vest close to the hotel.
Around 30 people, including government officials, who were trapped inside the hotel were eventually freed after security forces worked for hours on Saturday evening to end the siege by al-Shabab extremists.
Earlier, fighting raged as security forces pursued attackers inside the Nasa-Hablod hotel, which is located 600 metres from the presidential palace and is known to be frequented by politicians and members of Mogadishu’s elite.
Captain Mohamed Hussein said three of the five attackers were killed and others hurled grenades and cut off the hotel’s electricity as night fell.
Police officer Ali Nur said: “Security forces have entered a small portion of the hotel building…The exchange of gunfire is hellish.”
He added that most of those killed were policemen who were stationed close to the hotel’s gate. A former lawmaker and a former government minister were also reported to have died.
The al-Shabab extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operations spokesman, said: “We targeted ministers and security officials who were inside the hotel. We are fighting inside.”
The attack in Somalia’s capital comes two weeks after more than 350 people were killed in a massive truck bombing on a busy Mogadishu street in the country’s worst-ever attack.
The extremist group al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu but it did not comment on the attack earlier this month.
Security officials said on this occasion the first attacker pretended his truck had broken down outside the hotel’s gates.
Police Colonel Mohamed Abdullahi said the attacker stopped outside the heavily fortified hotel and pretended to repair the truck before turning it around and detonating the explosives.
A huge cloud of smoke was seen above the scene and a witness described a dozen wrecked cars and bloodstains in front of the hotel.
Police officer Nur Mohamed said: “The second car bomb occurred at the ex-parliament house where there were [military] forces.”