Islamic militants have blasted their way into a Somali hotel and taken positions inside, exchanging fire with security forces seeking to regain control of the building, a police official said.
At least four al-Shabab gunmen had trapped an unknown number of people inside the building in the capital Mogadishu, Captain Mohamed Hussein said.
Witnesses said some people jumped out of the hotel's windows, and one person who made it safely outside said the gunmen were killing anyone they could find.
Somali special forces, facing bullets from gunmen holed up inside dark corners of the hotel, trained their weapons on the hotel’s windows.
Update: Special units entered parts of the Maka-Almukarama hotel,hostages jumped out of windows,many killed & injured pic.twitter.com/tf9zgdpRzd— News_Executive (@News_Executive) March 27, 2015
One bloodied government soldier, wounded from fighting inside, was dragged out by colleagues and bundled into an ambulance.
Al-Shabab, the al Qaida-linked extremist group that has carried out many attacks here, claimed responsibility for the assault on the Maka Al-Mukarramah hotel, which is popular with Somali government officials and foreigners.
The attack started when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car at the gate of the hotel. Gunmen then quickly moved in, according to Capt Hussein, who said he had counted at least nine bodies at the scene.
The death toll is likely to rise as the security forces attempt to regain control of the hotel.
It remained unclear who was being targeted by the militants and how many civilians were inside the hotel when the attack was launched.
Al-Shabab routinely carries out suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks in Mogadishu, the seat of Somalia’s Western-backed government – often targeting government troops, policymakers and foreigners.
Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, but was pushed out of the capital and other major cities by African Union forces. Despite major setbacks last year, al-Shabab continues to wage a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s government and remains a threat in the east African region.
The group has carried out attacks in neighbouring countries, including Kenya, whose military is part of the African Union troops bolstering Somalia’s weak government.
At least 67 people were killed in a September 2013 attack by al-Shabab on a mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.