At least four people were killed in an ongoing attack by Al-Shabaab militants who laid siege to a popular hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu overnight, a security agency official told AFP on Monday. Gunfire and explosions could still be heard more than 12 hours after the militants stormed the hotel near the presidential palace in a hail of bullets.
Mohamed Dahir, an official from the national security agency, told AFP the gunmen were holed up in a room at the Villa Rose surrounded by government forces.
“So far we have confirmed the death of four people”, he said, adding that others had been rescued from the besieged venue. “Very soon the situation will return to normal.”
Government officials were among others injured, he added.
The Villa Rose is frequented by parliamentarians and located in a secure central part of the capital just a few blocks from the office of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Al-Shabaab, a militant group affiliated with al Qaeda that has been trying to overthrow Somalia’s central government for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Police said the gunmen rushed into the hotel in Bondhere district at around 8:00 p.m. (noon Eastern) on Sunday and an operation was under way to “eliminate” them.
More than 12 hours later, witnesses near the scene described hearing loud explosions and gunfire.
“I saw several military vehicles with special forces heading towards the hotel, and a few minutes later, there was heavy gunfire and explosions,” said local witness Mahad Yare.
In a statement late Sunday, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), a 20,000-strong military force drawn from across the continent, praised the “swift” security response to the attack.
On its website the Villa Rose describes the hotel as the “most secure lodging arrangement in Mogadishu” with metal detectors and a high perimeter wall.
Al-Shabaab has intensified attacks against civilian and military targets as Somalia’s recently-elected government has pursued a policy of “all-out war” against the Islamists. (CBS)