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Bloody Scenes at Somali Beach as Islamist Gunmen Storm Restaurant

Hundreds evacuated as al Shabaab militants attack a popular beachfront restaurant with guns and bombs, killing 17 civilians.

by Reuters News Agency
Jan 22 2016, 3:40pm

Photo by Nour Gelle Gedi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

At least 17 people were killed in the Somali capital of Mogadishu when five Islamist gunmen set off bombs and stormed a popular beachfront restaurant late on Thursday, Somali police said.

Al Shabaab, a militant group aligned with al Qaeda, said its fighters set off two car bombs at the Beach View Cafe on Mogadishu's popular Lido beach, and engaged in a gun battle for hours with government troops trying to flush them out.

"The operation ended at 3 am last night and at least 17 civilians were killed," police officer Osman Nur told Reuters on Friday.

A Somali man cries next to dead bodies lying on the Lido beach following an overnight attack on the beachfront Lido seafood restaurant in Mogadishu on January 22, 2016. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)

Somalia's security minister, Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, said four of the gunmen were killed and one was captured alive.

"The government forces rescued hundreds of civilians who were dining there," he told state-run Radio Muqdisho.

Police said al Shabaab fighters set off the first car bomb at dusk. A huge second blast, which witnesses said echoed around the city center, struck about an hour later as government soldiers laid siege to the restaurant.

A Somali soldier looks at the Lido beach from the terrace of the Lido seafood restaurant on January 22, 2016 following an overnight attack on the beachfront restaurant in Mogadishu. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)

Al Shabaab, which regularly targets hotels and restaurants in the capital, seeks to topple the Western-backed government and impose a strict version of Islamic law across Somalia, a nation racked by conflict since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.

The group at one point controlled most of Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, but in recent years an African Union peacekeeping force has wrestled most of that territory away from the group.

People carry away a dead body from the Lido beach on January 22, 2016 following an overnight attack on a beachfront restaurant in Mogadishu. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)

Somalia's prime minister urged the public to remains calm and called the attack on a civilian target was a desperate move by a group facing annihilation.

"Let it remain clear that (the attack) will not hamper the commitment of my government and that of our people to resurrect Somalia," Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke said in a statement.

The attack came a week after al Shabaab overrun an African Union base near the Kenyan border, saying they had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers. Kenya has not commented on the toll.