The death toll climbed to 17 Sunday as two further victims died in hospital after radical Islamists attacked a popular hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu, officials and hospital sources said.
Medical official Mohamed Yusuf confirmed the two new deaths and added that a total of about 25 people had been injured in the attack by the insurgent al-Shabaab group.
The fatalities reportedly included politicians, businessmen and members of the security forces. The death toll includes the six attackers, Security Minister Abdirisak Omar Mohamed said.
The militants arrived outside the Hotel Sahafi in two vehicles packed with explosives in the morning, police representative Abdi Hassan said.
One of the vehicles rammed into a security wall and exploded, killing one of the attackers and several security guards.
The other attackers stormed the hotel, police and witnesses said.
While a gun battle was raging inside the hotel, the other explosives-packed vehicle was blown up by remote control in a parking lot.
The militants also launched hand grenades from the roof of the hotel towards security forces surrounding it.
Witness Abdullahi Ali said he saw attackers chasing hotel guests and smashing room doors.
Fatalities included the hotel owner, who was also a politician; a former army chief of operations; a legislator; two press photographers; and at least three soldiers, according to witnesses. The blasts also hit a minibus, some passengers of which were thought to have been killed or injured.
Security forces had taken the hotel, the siege was over and “the situation has returned to normal,” Security Minister Mohamed told reporters.
He said some of the militants wore African Union peacekeepers’ uniforms, which they may have acquired during an attack against an AU and Somali military base in June. Reports said some of the militants also wore Somali military uniforms.
Mohamed said one of the attackers was believed to have come from another eastern African country, without saying which one.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdiaziz Abu Mus’ab told pro-insurgent radio Andalus that the group had killed “many enemies in and around the hotel.”
The explosions damaged business premises near Sahafi, a hotel popular among politicians and the business community, which is located in the heart of the city.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called the attack “a brutal and cowardly terrorist act against innocent Somalis.”
He thanked the security forces for their “swift reaction” which saved “many lives.”