A car bomb went off at a hotel in Somalia‘s port city of Kismayuo where legislators and local elders were discussing an upcoming local election, police said, adding that the death toll could be high.
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 a suicide attack at the hotel.
“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.”
A local police officer said a gunfire between al-Shabab fighters and security forces that started after the blast lasted for about an hour and a half.
“… But we believe the fighters are still in the building. We have not confirmed the death toll, but there were many people inside, and there may be a high death toll,” police captain Abdullahi Isak told Reuters News Agency by phone.
“A blast occurred in Hotel Asasey in the heart of Kismayo, followed by gunfire. Local elders and legislators were having a meeting there. It is too early to know if there are any casualties,” Major Mohamed Abdi, a police officer, told Reuters from Kismayo on Friday.
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.
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.