The official death toll following the detonation of two car bombs in Somalia’s capital rose to 23 on Saturday, as Islamic group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Mogadishu attack.
In the first attack, a suicide car-bomb was rammed into the Nasahablod Two hotel about 600 meters from the presidential palace. Armed al-Shabaab militants then stormed the building, firing a volley of shots.
In the second attack, a "minibus loaded with explosives" was detonated outside a nearby former parliament building, police official Ibrahim Mohamed told AFP.
The explosions sent plumes of smoke into the sky which could be seen from several kilometers away as rescuers struggled to find survivors among the rubble and charred remains of vehicles.
At least 30 people have so far been reported injured. The sound of gunfire could still be heard several hours after the bombs were detonated.
Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida ally responsible for scores of such attacks in the country’s long civil war, said it had deliberately targeted officials due to discuss taking measures against the group.
“We targeted ministers and security officials who were inside the hotel. We are fighting inside,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters. The hotel belongs to Somalia’s Internal Security Minister, Mohamed Abukar Islow.
Officials said many civilians, several policemen and a former lawmaker were among the dead. “Security forces have entered a small portion of the hotel building... the exchange of gunfire is hellish,” police officer Ali Nur told Reuters.
Al Shabaab, which is allied to al-Qaida, stages regular attacks in Somalia, fighting to topple the its Western-backed government and gain control of the country, utimately imposing Sharia law.
On Oct. 14, a truck bombing in the capital killed some 300 people, with another 300 injured, in what has so far been the deadliest attack in the country’s history.
Nairobi-based think-tank Sahan Research reports that last year alone 723 people were killed in 395 bomb attacks, although not all are attributed to al-Qaida.