Several people, including journalists and politicians, were killed in a suicide bomb and gun attack on a hotel in southern Somalia, officials said.
Authorities on Friday said a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the popular Medina hotel in the port city of Kismayo, which was followed by a gunfight.
The area’s legislators and local elders were discussing an upcoming local election in the hotel, according to the officials.
Security official Abdi Dhuhul told AFP news agency seven people had died, including a former minister and a legislator, though an official death toll has not been released yet.
In a statement, the Somali Journalists Syndicate said there were two reporters among the dead, according to Reuters news agency.
“Mohamed Omar Sahal, SBC TV correspondent based in Kismayo and Hodan Naleyeh, female TV journalist and founder of Integration TV [are] both among [those] killed,” Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the syndicate’s secretary general, said.
Security official Abdiweli Mohamed said several heavily armed gunmen forced their way inside the hotel, shooting as they went.
“Several gunmen entered and started shooting but the security forces responded quickly and engaged in a gunfight with the attackers inside the building,” he said.
Armed group al-Shabab, which is believed to be linked to al-Qaeda and is trying to topple the Somali government, said it carried out the suicide attack.
“First, we targeted [the hotel] with a suicide car bomb and then armed ‘mujahideen’ (fighters) stormed the hotel. We are still fighting inside the hotel,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operation spokesman.
“There are many dead bodies inside the hotel, including a dead white man. We control the hotel now.”
Hussein Nur, a shopkeeper in Kismayo, told Reuters: “There were many people including officials and elders, mostly from one clan, who were discussing the coming Kismayo election.”
Nur was referring to elections in the city due sometime in August.
State-run Somali National News Agency said in a statement Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire had condemned the attack.
Al-Shabab was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds. In 2012, it was driven out of Kismayo, whose port had been a major source of revenue for the group.
Outside of Kismayo, al-Shabab still controls parts of Jubbaland, a region in southern Somalia.
The armed group remains a major security threat, with its fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force that helps defend the Somali government.