At least 10 people have been killed in an overnight battle in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu that began with a car bombing by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group, security officers said midday Friday, as sporadic shooting continued.
One Al-Shabaab fighter blew himself up in the car bomb late on Thursday, a huge blast that ripped the front of a major hotel and sparked a fireball blaze igniting several cars on the busy street.
Other fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked group stormed inside a building housing a restaurant, where they were ringed by police.
Fighting continues, with Al-Shabaab gunmen boasting of thwarting attempts to storm their positions, more than 16 hours after the attack began.
“More than 10 people have been killed,” said Abdirahman Ali, a national security officer.
“Rescue operations are still ongoing. The death toll may therefore be higher because there could be still bodies under the debris.”
Abdukadir Abdirahman, director of the Aamin Ambulance service, said that at least 60 people had been wounded.
The attack is the latest in a long line of bombing and assaults the group has carried out.
Witnesses close to the area reported sounds of explosions on Friday morning.
“There are still some armed men inside a building,” police officer Ibrahim Mohamed said, amid sporadic bursts of gunfire and grenade explosions.
“Security forces are trying to storm the building.”
– Siege on busy street –
Medics said they had pulled out several bodies from the wreckage of the bomb blast immediately after the explosion, but recovery of any more bodies has been blocked by the ensuing fighting.
Several vehicles were thrown into the air by the force of the blast before bursting into flames.
Al-Shabaab insurgents said the bombing was aimed at killing senior officials staying in the Maka Al-Mukarama hotel.
They boasted in a statement on Friday of holding out against multiple attempts by soldiers to defeat them, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activities.
Mogadishu is regularly targeted by the Shabaab in its long fight to topple the government.
Witnesses said the bombing took place in the early evening, when the street was filled with people relaxing after a day’s work.
“The whole area was in flames,” said Abdisamed Mohamed, a witness. “There was gunfire too.”
Al-Shabaab fighters fled the fixed positions they once held in Mogadishu in 2011, and have since lost many of their strongholds.
But they retain control of large rural swathes of the country, and continue to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities.