At least five people have been killed in a bomb blast and storming of a beachside hotel in Somalia's capital. Initial reports suggest hostages have been taken; the attack bears the hallmark of Al-Shabaab militants.
Gunmen stormed an upscale beachfront hotel in Mogadishu on Sunday after a car bomb detonated outside in an attack reminiscent of others carried out by Al-Shabaab militants.
"There was a car bomb blast targeting Elite Hotel at Lido beach. There is heavy gunfire in the building," said Adan Ibrahim, a police officer in the area.
At least five people, including two hotel security guards, have been killed, and the militants are feared to have taken hostages, police officer Ahmed Bashane told German news agency dpa.
The state news agency SONNA said the dead included a director from the country's information ministry and civilians who were passing or inside the hotel.
Security forces have been deployed to the area to assist the hotel guards and end the siege, said Bashane, noting that he expects the death toll to rise.
Ismael Mukhtaar Omar, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Information, wrote on Twitter that two militants were also killed.
Aamin Ambulance, a Mogadishu-based private service, reported that 28 people were wounded.
Eyewitness Ali Sayid Adan told the AFP news agency that the blast was "very heavy." He added: "There is chaos and people are fleeing from nearby buildings."
"The exchange of gunfire is terrible and stray bullets reached us near the beach," said Mohamed Nur, a government worker who lives near Lido beach.
Hotel frequented by VIPs
The hotel, owned by Somali lawmaker and prominent businessmen Abdullahi Mohamed Nur, is often frequented by politicians, journalists, civil society activists.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Somalia has been embroiled in deadly violence since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew leader Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Since 2008, Al Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally recognized central government and establish its rule based on its own interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.
Last week, four Shabaab fighters held in Mogadishu's central prison were killed in an intense shootout with security forces after they somehow managed to get their hands on weapons within the facility.
mm/ng (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)