At least 20 people being held hostage in Somali capital after suicide attack kills nine

At least 19 people have been killed after Islamist attackers launched a car bomb and gun attack on a busy hotel and adjacent restaurant in the Somali capital, police say.
People help a woman injured by a blast in Mogadishu, on May 24, 2017.
People help a woman injured by a blast in Mogadishu, on May 24, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOGADISHU (REUTERS) – Gunmen were holding at least 20 people hostage in a restaurant in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Wednesday (June 14), police said, after a suicide bomber rammed a car nearby and militants stormed inside in an attack claimed by Islamist al Shabaab militants.

“The fighters are still inside the Pizza House (restaurant) and they are holding over 20 people. We do not know how many of those are dead or alive,” said Major Ibrahim Hussein, a Mogadishu police officer.

Earlier, at least nine people were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car into a hotel, police and witnesses said, in an attack claimed by al Shabaab.

Gunfire followed the attack on the Posh Hotel, the only venue with a discotheque in the capital, a Reuters witness said.

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Witnesses said the whole district was cordoned off by police.

“So far, we can confirm that nine people – mostly women who were hotel staff – have died,” said Mohamed Hussein, another police officer.

Hussein told Reuters the suicide attacker rammed the explosive-laden car laden into the hotel’s entrance. Another police officer said gunmen had stormed a restaurant adjacent to the hotel in central Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab, which has carried out a campaign of suicide bombings in its bid to topple the Somali government and impose its strict interpretation of Islam, claimed responsibility.

“A mujahid (fighter) with his suicide car bomb martyred himself after he rammed into the Posh Hotel, which is a nightclub. The operation goes on,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military spokesman, told Reuters.

Since losing large swathes of territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the government, the group has frequently launched raids and deadly attacks in Mogadishu and other regions controlled by the federal government.

The Horn of Africa country has been racked by armed conflict since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other.