MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Islamist militants blasted their way into a popular hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Friday, killing at least seven people and trapping government officials inside, police and witnesses said.
Police surrounded the Hotel Maka Al Mukaram, but heavy gunfire from militants prevented them from mounting a rescue operation. The remains of two destroyed cars could be seen at the gates of the building.
“The hotel is now fully under the control of the militants,” Major Ismail Olow, a Mogadishu police officer at the scene, told Reuters. “Al Shabaab fighters are on the top of the building and inside the hotel. It is not easy for us to go in.”
The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab issued a statement taking responsibility for the blitz.
“We are behind the Hotel Maka Al Mukaram attack, and fighting is still going on inside,” the group’s military spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters.
Al Shabaab was pushed out of the capital by African peacekeeping forces in 2011, but have waged a series of gun and grenade attacks, looking to overthrow the government and impose its strict version of sharia law on the country.
An offensive launched last year by African Union forces along with the Somali army has driven the group out of its strongholds in central and southern Somalia, while a series of U.S. drone strikes have killed some of its top leaders.
Despite the military campaign, al Shabaab has continued to strike back with often devastating effect using hit-and-run bomb and gun attacks in the capital Mogadishu and other towns. It has also struck out at countries supporting the AU mission.