At least 15 people were killed in an al Shabaab attack on a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of a Mogadishu hotel, followed by a second explosion heard inside the hotel as gunmen fought their way inside, leaving at least 15 people killed and 20 more wounded.
"At least 15 people have been killed and 20 more wounded in the attack," journalist Abdirizak Tuuryare said, quoting police sources.
"Police also said an unknown number of people inside the hotel had been taken hostage," he said.
Police captain Ali Ahmed said security forces were battling the attackers who took positions inside the Nasa-Hablod hotel near the capital's busy KM-4 junction.
A security official, who asked not to be named, told DPA news agency that they believed three to four militants were involved in the attack.
A witness to the attack, Ali Mohamud, said the attackers randomly shot at guests at the hotel.
"They were shooting at everyone they could see. I escaped through the back door," he said.
Capt. Mohamed Hussein said some attackers had moved to the second floor and were using machine guns to resist security forces. Hussein said security forces killed two of the attackers.
He also told AP news agency that he saw four bodies, thought to be civilians, lying outside the hotel.
The attackers "took positions behind blast walls and sandbags; fighting is still ongoing," Hussein said, as gunfire was heard in the background.
Yusuf Ali, an ambulance driver said he evacuated 11 people injured in the attack to hospitals.
"Most of them were wounded in crossfire," he said.
Al Shabaab group, which frequently carries out attacks in the capital in its bid to topple the Western-backed government, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement distributed through social networks online.
The group said its fighters were still engaged with security forces.
Muslims in Somalia and around the world are observing Ramadan. In previous years, al Shabaab has often intensified attacks during the fasting month, often picking targets where people gather just before or after breaking the fast.
At least 16 people have been killed and 55 more wounded in a car bomb and gun attack on Hotal Ambassador in the centre of Mogadishu on June 01. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
In February, at least nine people were killed when al-Shabab fighters set off a car bomb at the gate of a popular park near a hotel in the capital.
In January, an attack on a beach-front restaurant killed at least 17 people.
Loss of strongholds
Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu by the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM in 2011.
Last year it was turfed out from strongholds elsewhere in the south by AMISOM and the Somali National Army.
However, it has remained a potent threat in Somalia, launching frequent attacks aimed at overthrowing the government.
The group has also been behind deadly attacks in Kenya and Uganda. Both contribute troops to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
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|Allen L. Jasson|