At least 12 people have been killed and 10 injured in a suicide blast at the gates of the Sahafi hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Gunmen then stormed inside, shooting at staff and guests.
Gunmen from the al-Shabab Islamist militant group used a minibus packed with explosives to ram the gates of a hotel compound in Somalia at dawn on Sunday, police said.
They then forced their way into the building, in the capital Mogadishu, and began firing indiscriminately.
"Attackers exploded a car bomb to gain entry before going inside... we have reports of 12 dead," policeman Abdulrahid Dahir told Agence France-Presse.
The attack took place at the Hotel Sahafi, a heavily fortified building popular with MPs, government employees and businessmen.
Witnesses said they saw several bodies of people killed in the initial blast, which was then followed by a second heavy explosion and then by intense gunfire inside the hotel.
"We got phone calls from staff hiding in hotel rooms saying that there are several injured people in the hotel," police officer Major Ismail Nu told the Reuters news agency.
"We have also rescued many government officials by a ladder through the back wall," Nu added.
The dead included the hotel owner, an MP, a former military commander, guards and civilians, according to officers at the scene.
Al-Shabab quickly claimed responsibility for the assault.
Police said a hostage situation at the hotel lasted several hours but later confirmed that African Union soldiers, working alongside government forces, had taken control of the building.
The al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants have frequently launched attacks in Mogadishu to topple the Western-backed government and introduce a strict version of Sharia law. Among locations targeted are hotels frequented by local officials.
The incident mirrored tactics the jihadists have used before, whereby bombs are detonated to break through security at targets before fighters are sent in.
The Sahafi hotel lies near a busy area of Mogadishu known as K-4. In 2009, it was the site of the kidnapping of two French security agents, one of whom later escaped, while the other was killed by the Shabab during a failed rescue attempt in 2013.
Al-Shabab have also carried out several strikes in neighboring countries.
mm/ng (AP, AFP, Reuters)