A car bomb explosion followed by a second detonation have reportedly paved the way for attackers to enter the Maka Al-Mukarramah Hotel in Somalia's capital. Police have surrounded the hotel, while firing goes on inside.
Police were hampered in their rescue operation by heavy firing from Al-Shabab militants inside the hotel on Friday evening. The wrecks of two destroyed cars could be seen at the gates of the hotel.
Initial reports of at least one person having been killed in the blasts were updated in the hours that followed, with DPA news agency reporting "several casualties," while AFP news agency specified that "at least seven people" had been killed and the Associated Press news agency quoted the police as reporting "at least nine people" dead.
The Maka Al-Mukarramah Hotel is a popular rendezvous for politicians, government officials and entrepreneurs, though it was not clear who the radical Islamists were targeting.
The al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militant group has already claimed responsibility for the attack. The group's military spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters: "We are behind the Hotel Maka Al-Mukarramah attack, and the fighting is still going on inside."
Major Ismail Olow, a Mogadishu police officer at the scene, said that "al-Shabab fighters are on top of the building and inside the hotel. It is not easy for us to go in."
Having been driven out of their bases in the city in 2011, al-Shabab militants continue to terrorize Mogadishu with suicide bombings and drive-by shootings and similar attacks on a regular basis.
ac/kms (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)