Al Shabab claims attacks on hotel and former parliament building
Suicide bombers kill 17 in first Mogadishu attack since deadly lorry bombing
The Somali capital Mogadishu was struck by twin car bombings claimed by Al Shabab on Saturday, the first major attack in city since a lorry bombing two weeks ago that left more than 350 dead.
In the first attack, a suicide car bomb rammed into the popular Nasahablod Two hotel, about 600 metres from the presidential place, before gunmen stormed the building. A few minutes later a car bomb exploded near the former parliament house nearby.
Ali Nur, a police officer, said 17 people, mostly policemen, had died in the blasts.
"Security forces have entered a small portion of the hotel building … the exchange of gunfire is hellish," he said.
The police personnel who died had been stationed close to hotel's gate. The dead also included a former member of parliament, he said.
Fighting continued to rage inside the hotel and police said the death toll was likely to rise.
Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of Mogadishu's Amin ambulance service, said 17 injured people had been carried away from the hotel blast.
A huge cloud of smoke rose over the hotel and there were more than a dozen wrecked cars outside. Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the vicinity.
The Somali militant group Al Shabab said it carried out the bombings.
"We targeted ministers and security officials who were inside the hotel. We are fighting inside," said Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group's military operations spokesman.
He said the hotel belonged to Somalia's internal security minister, Mohamed Abukar Islow.
Its sister hotel, the Nasahablod, was targeted by Al Shabab in a similar attack that killed 11 people in June last year.
The Al Qaeda-affiliated militant group is fighting to topple Somalia's internationally-backed government and has carried out scores of such attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country.
There was no claim of responsibility for the lorry bombing on October 14, which was the deadliest in the country's history and triggered nationwide anger. At least 358 people were killed and about 400 injured, with many of the victims burnt beyond recognition.