Attackers detonated at least two explosives outside hotel before entering building and opening fire.
MOGADISHU - At least 12 people have been killed after al-Shabab militants stormed a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Friday night.
Attackers detonated at least two explosives outside the hotel before entering the building and opening fire.
Continued gunfire and explosions were reported on Saturday as security forces battled an unknown number of gunmen still inside holding hostages.
Dozens of guests and staff members have been rescued.
“So far we have confirmed 12 people, mostly civilians, died,” Mohammed, an intelligence officer who only gave one name, told Reuters new agency.
Earlier, a website affiliated to al-Shabab said a group of militants were “carrying out random shootings” after having “forcibly entered” the hotel - described as a popular location for employees of the federal government to meet. The director of Mogadishu’s main trauma hospital, Dr Mohamed Abdirahman Jama, told news agency AFP the facility was treating at least 40 people wounded in the hotel attack and a separate mortar strike on another area of the capital. Meanwhile, loved ones of people still trapped or unaccounted for have gathered outside the hotel, local journalist Abdalle Mumin told the BBC.
“There are a lot of efforts going, the ambulance, the firefighters, the police, everyone on standby trying to save what they can form the scene, but the scene is very difficult to be accessed because civilians, relatives to whom we have been talking are saying that their loved ones are still trapped,” he said.
“There are also reports of dead bodies lying inside the hotel, but no one can manage to get in.” In a statement a police officer told Reuters news agency the initial attack on the hotel had been two car bombs. “One hit a barrier near the hotel, and then the other hit the gate of the hotel,” he said.
Mr Mumin, who was near the hotel at the time of the attack, said he heard a “huge explosion” and went to report on the incident.
“We could see huge smoke coming out from the hotel, the Hayat hotel. There were an estimated five big explosions and then there was gunfire,” he said.
An affiliate of al-Qaeda, al-Shabab has engaged in a long-running conflict with the federal government.
The group controls much of southern and central Somalia but has been able to extend its influence into areas controlled by the government based in Mogadishu. In recent weeks fighters affiliated with the group have also attacked targets along the Somalia-Ethiopia border, which has raised concerns about a possible new strategy by al-Shabab.
The attack on Friday marks the first in the capital by the group since Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was elected in May.