Al Shabaab militants claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack targeting a hotel in central Mogadishu on Wednesday, saying some of its fighters had stormed the premises. The death toll has risen to at least 10, with police saying the number is sure to increase.
"We attacked the hotel with a car bomb and we went inside. We shall give details later," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military operations spokesman, told Reuters.
Mogadishu police said some militants had apparently burst into the hotel.
"We believe there are some fighters in the hotel but we are not sure. So far we have confirmed three people have died and a dozen others wounded," Major Ibrahim Hassan, a police officer, told Reuters.
Hassan said that so far 10 people, mostly pedestrians and passengers on the road, were dead and over a dozen were injured.
"The death toll is sure to rise. We suspect the militants are inside the hotel because we do not see occupants coming out of it," he said.
The hotel targeted in the attack was reportedly the Ambassador Hotel. Pictures posted on Twitter by local outlet Radio Dalsan show the Mogadishu skyline with smoke billowing into the air. The outlet also reported that police were at the hotel to retrieve hostages.
News of Wednesday's attack comes as reports emerge that the US targeted a top al Shabaab commander in Somalia in a May 27 air strike. According to the Pentagon, they are still assessing the drone strike operation's results, despite some media reports that Abdullahi Haji Da'ud, a senior military commander for the militant group, had been killed.
The Pentagon told Reuters the strike was carried out against the commander in south central Somalia. Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban said the operation utilized a remotely piloted aircraft.
Al-Shabaab, meaning "youth," first formed in Somalia in 2006 with the aim of toppling the weak government and implementing a harsh brand of Islamic law. The African Union started a military operation in 2011 working closely with Kenyan troops, with the mission largely succeeding in pushing the fighters from strongholds in Mogadishu and along the coast.
Despite being driven off their turf, the group boosted its campaign in the country this year, carrying out several violent assaults since January, particularly at destinations frequented by foreigners, members of the Somali diaspora who have recently returned to Mogadishu, or upper-class residents.
Recent attacks include a bombing at the end of the February at a busy junction and a nearby restaurant in the town of Baidoa, killing as many as 55 people. Just two days earlier, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for a deadly park bombing and an attack at the nearby Somali Youth League hotel.
A mortar attack also occurred near the presidential palace that month, and a suicide bomber linked to the group detonated a bomb on a plane departing from Mogadishu's international airport. The bomber was killed and blew a hole in the plane, but the jet did not crash.
In January, al Shabaab gunmen killed more than a dozen people at a popular beach. The group has also expanded its violence into the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
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