Fighting continues after extremists set off car bomb and kill 17 in hostage takeover in Somalia

Fighting continues after extremists set off car bomb and kill 17 in hostage takeover in Somalia

Update 8.53am: Fighting continued through the night as the extremists fought heavily-armed soldiers.

Extremist snipers fired on security troops who surrounded the restaurant and used big guns mounted on the backs of vehicles to neutralise militants.

Soldiers entered the ground floor while the insurgent attackers held positions upstairs.

Capt Hussein said at dawn on Thursday that at least one attacker was firing on troops from inside the restaurant.

Police said the bodies of five girls thought to have been killed by militants were found in the building.

AP

Latest: Gunmen posing as soldiers are holding an unknown number of hostages inside a popular restaurant in Somalia's capital in a deadly attack that began when a car bomb exploded at the gate.

Extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack in which at least 17 people, including foreigners, died, police and an ambulance driver said.

Two of the gunmen were shot dead and 10 hostages were rescued, but five other attackers were thought to still be inside, cutting off electricity to complicate security forces' efforts to end the siege, Captain Mohamed Hussein said.

Khalif Dahir, a driver with Amin Ambulance, said early on Thursday his service transported 17 bodies and 26 wounded people. Police said the dead included a Syrian man.

Most of the victims were young men who entering the Pizza House in Mogadishu when the vehicle exploded, Capt Hussein said.

The gunmen "were dressed in military uniforms. They forced those fleeing the site to go inside" the restaurant, witness Nur Yasin said.

Wednesday night's blast largely destroyed the restaurant's facade and sparked a fire.

Fighting continues after extremists set off car bomb and kill 17 in hostage takeover in Somalia

While al-Shabab claimed to have attacked the neighbouring Posh Treats restaurant, which is frequented by the city's elite and was damaged in the blast, security officials said the Pizza House was targeted instead.

Security forces rescued Asian, Ethiopian, Kenyan and other workers at Posh Treats as the attack continued, Capt Hussein said.

Somalia-based al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu, including hotels, military checkpoints and areas near the presidential palace.

It has vowed to step up attacks after the recently-elected government launched a new military offensive against the group.

Al-Shabab last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, with more than 4,200 people killed in 2016, according to the Washington-based Africa Centre for Strategic Studies.

The extremist group also faces a new military push from the United States after Donald Trump approved expanded operations, including air strikes, against al-Shabab.

On Sunday, the US military in Africa said it carried out an air strike in southern Somalia that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp.

Somalia's president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said such strikes would disrupt the group's ability to conduct new attacks.

With a new government established, pressure is growing on Somalia's military to assume full responsibility for the country's security.

The 22,000-strong African Union multinational force, Amisom, which has been supporting the fragile central government, plans to start withdrawing in 2018 and leave by the end of 2020.

Meanwhile the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the world body's political mission in the Horn of Africa nation, which is trying to rebuild after more than two decades as a failed state, until March 31, 2018.

The resolution recognised that "this is a critical moment for Somalia".

Fighting continued through the night as the extremists fought heavily-armed soldiers.

Extremist snipers fired on security troops who surrounded the restaurant and used big guns mounted on the backs of vehicles to neutralise militants.

Soldiers entered the ground floor while the insurgent attackers held positions upstairs.

Capt Hussein said at dawn on Thursday that at least one attacker was firing on troops from inside the restaurant.

Police said the bodies of five girls thought to have been killed by militants were found in the building.

AP

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