Gunmen take guests hostage after blast at Somalia hotel

A view of the Nasahablod Hotel, destroyed after a bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, Saturday, June 25, 2016. A Somali police officer says a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of a hotel in Mogadishu followed by gunmen who were fighting their way into the hotel..(AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Gunmen who stormed a hotel in Somalia’s capital have taken an unknown number of hotel guests hostage, police said Saturday, as the attackers set up snipers on the rooftop and threw grenades. Islamic extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the latest in a series of hotel assaults in Mogadishu.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein said some attackers had moved to the second floor and were using machine guns to resist security forces.

Police said the attack on the Nasa-Hablod hotel began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at its gate. Gunmen fought their way inside, and a witness said they began shooting randomly at hotel guests.

Hussein said security forces killed two of the attackers.

He also said he saw four bodies, thought to be civilians, lying outside the hotel.

It was not known how many attackers entered the hotel, nor how many guests were inside.

The attackers “took positions behind blast walls and sandbags; fighting is still ongoing,” Hussein said, as gunfire was heard in the background. The al-Shabab group said its fighters were still engaged with security forces.

A witness, Ali Mohamud, said the attackers randomly shot at guests. “They were shooting at everyone they could see. I escaped through the back door,” he said.

Yusuf Ali, an ambulance driver, told The Associated Press that he evacuated 11 people injured in the attack to hospitals.

“Most of them were wounded in crossfire,” he said.

The Somalia-based, al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab has been waging a deadly insurgency across large parts of Somalia and often employs suicide car bomb attacks to penetrate heavily fortified targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

In early June, an overnight siege by extremist gunmen at another hotel in the capital killed least 15 people, including two members of parliament. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for that attack.

The latest attack comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which extremists often step up attacks in this volatile East African country.

The assaults in the seaside capital have highlighted the challenges facing the Somali government and African Union forces that are struggling to secure the country. An attack on another Mogadishu hotel and public garden in February killed at least nine civilians. A car bomb outside a restaurant in the capital in April killed at least five.

The al-Shabab insurgents have been ousted from most of Somalia’s cities but continue to carry out bombings and suicide attacks.

The African Union force faces shrinking resources after the European Union recently cut its funding to the AU mission in Somalia by 20 percent. Citing that cut, Uganda’s military chief said Friday his country plans to withdraw its more than 6,000 troops from the AU force in Somalia by December 2017. The Ugandans are the largest troop contingent.

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