Al-Shabab militants have carried out a complex attack on a hotel located in a secure area not far from the presidential palace in Mogadishu and a prison run by the national intelligence agency, according to witnesses and police.
“Tonight Khawarij group attacked a hotel in Bondhere district,” said a note sent to the journalists via WhatsApp. “Security forces are conducting an operation to end the Khawarij attack.”
Khawarij or “deviant sect,” is a term the government uses to refer to al-Shabab.
A security official who did not want to be named confirmed to VOA Somali that the militants targeted Villa Rossa, a hotel frequented by government officials and politicians.
The official also confirmed that the attack started with an explosion, followed by armed gunmen storming the hotel. The number of al-Shabab gunmen is not yet known. The first explosion occurred at around 8:05 p.m. local time.
Witnesses have seen special security forces moving into the area. Police said they rescued many civilians and officials. There was no word on the number of casualties as a result of the ongoing attack.
In a Telegram post, the militant group said its fighters conducted a suicide infantry mission.
The attack comes as Somali government forces supported by local fighters continue an offensive against the militants in Hirshabelle and Galmudug states.
Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre last week said security forces have killed more than 600 militants and injured 1,200 others during three months of military operations against the group.
In a report marking the first 100 days of his Cabinet, he said security forces have also recovered 68 localities from al-Shabab.
“The government of Dan Qaran (National Interest) has launched a three-front war, militarily, economically and ideology against the Khawarij,” he said.
The figure given by the government has not been independently verified.