A hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, where government officials are known to stay, has come under attack.
Soon after the attack at Villa Rose began, Environment Minister Adam Aw Hirsi said he had survived the attack.
There were also unconfirmed reports that Mohamed Ahmed, Somalia’s internal security minister, was injured.
Al-Shabab militants said they had stormed the hotel. The Islamist group has been active in Somalia for more than 15 years.
The Villa Rose hotel, where the ambush took place, is a short walk from the presidential palace in central Mogadishu.
An unknown number of assailants, armed with explosives and guns, were involved, police officers told Reuters news agency.
One eyewitness described hearing a “huge blast, followed by a heavy exchange of gunfire”.
“We were shaken,” Ahmed Abdullahi, who lives close to the scene, told the news agency. “We are just indoors, listening to gunfire.”
Some government officials were rescued from Villa Rose after using windows to escape, Mohammed Abdi, one of the police officers, said.
In August, three months after taking office, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud pledged “total war” against the Islamist militants following an attack on another popular Mogadishu hotel. More than 20 people died.
Two months later, twin car bomb explosions near a busy junction in Mogadishu killed at least 100 people. Al-Shabab claimed responsivity for that, too.
President Mohamud subsequently mobilised the Somali army and government-backed clan militias in a bid to take villages and towns from al-Shabab, which controls large swathes of the country.
Our Africa correspondent Andrew Harding recently spent time with the so-called “lightning” brigade, which is funded by the US and plays a central role in the uprising against al-Shabab.
The militant group’s central aim is to topple Somalia’s government and establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
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