Presidential palace in Somalia hit by major car bomb, gun attack: police

MOGADISHU (AFP) - The presidential palace in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, home to the country's internationally-backed government, was hit on Friday by a massive car bomb followed by a raid by gunmen, said police and witnesses.

The UN's special envoy to Somalia said the country's president, Mr Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, had telephoned to say he was unharmed in the attack against the Villa Somalia, one of the most heavily fortified places in the country.

"There is a large attack on the presidential palace. Initial reports are that a suicide car bomber hit the gate and exploded, then men with guns followed," police officer Mohamed Ali told AFP.

The attack appeared to bear all the hallmarks of Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels, and comes just a week after the militants carried out a suicide car bomb attack at the gates of Mogadishu's heavily-fortified international airport.

"Security forces are dealing with terrorists who blew up a car... and there is exchange of fire. We have no details of the casualties but of course there are casualties," said Mr Ahmed Moalim Adan, a security official near the scene of the attack.

Witness Hussein Isa said the attackers were fighting inside the presidential compound.

"A suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosives into the perimeter wall of the presidential palace and another one with heavily armed men penetrated the area where the first one hit. There is heavy exchange of gunfire continuing inside the building but we cannot tell what is happening," said the witness.

The sound of intense gunfire and sporadic explosions could be heard coming from the presidential complex, AFP reporters said.

In a message on Twitter, UN special envoy Nick Kay said the president "just called me to say he's unharmed" and that the "attack on Villa Somalia had failed." "Sadly some lives lost. I condemn strongly this terrorism," Mr Kay's message said.

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