UPDATE 3-Unidentified assailants take over a hotel in the Somali capital

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MOGADISHU — Unidentified armed assailants took over a hotel in the Somali capital after two car bombings and gunfire, police and intelligence officials said Friday.

“Two car bombs targeted the Hayat hotel. One hit a fence near the hotel, then the other hit the hotel door. We believe the fighters are inside the hotel,” a policeman who identified himself as Ahmed told Reuters.

Two intelligence officers, who did not want to be named, confirmed the incident.

Abdikadir Abdirahman, director and founder of Aamin Ambulance Services in Mogadishu, told Reuters they had so far transported nine injured people away from the hotel.

There were no further details about the victims. A witness said the blasts subsided and sporadic gunfire was still heard from the direction of the hotel.

The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors statements by Islamist militant groups. Al-Shabab has been fighting for more than 10 years to overthrow the Somali government. He wants to establish his own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

The Hayat Hotel is a popular venue with legislators and other government officials.

Police officers were carrying out an operation aimed at halting the attack, the Somali National News Agency said on its Twitter account, citing a police spokesperson.

“The unsung heroes of the Somali Police Special Unit rescued many people from the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu,” the agency added later. The agency also released a photo showing smoke billowing from above the stage.

Friday’s assault is the first major attack since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May.

Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the past. In August 2020, he said he was behind an attack on another hotel in Mogadishu in which at least 16 people were killed.