Somalia security forces are fighting armed gunmen to end a siege at a hotel in the east African country’s capital Mogadishu on Sunday that has claimed the life of the country’s former defense minister, according to police.
Police told CNN the country’s former defense minister, Mohamed Nur Galal, is confirmed dead in the attack. Officials did not provide further details and did not confirm whether there were more casualties in the ongoing battle.
Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble sent condolences following Galal’s death.
“My heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of the heinous terror attack in Hotel Afrik including Gen Mohamed Nur Galal who served his country with valor for over 50 years,” Roble said via Twitter. “This attack is yet another reminder of the savage enemy we face. We must unite against terror.”
A car bomb exploded at the gate of Afrik hotel and was followed by gunfire heard inside, Somali police captain, Ahmed Hassan, told CNN. The incident occurred around 5 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET), Hassan added.
Gunmen from the al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab gained access to the building after the car bomb explosion at the gate, he said.
There is an ongoing operation to rescue people from inside the hotel, according to police.
The reason for the attack is also unclear but Hassan said a top military commander was inside the hotel at the time of the attack. Other senior military officials and lawmakers were also inside the hotel, Hassan said.
The hotel is frequented by members of Parliament, politicians and security officials, but not foreigners.
Outside the hotel is the main security checkpoint to the airport and Halane base, which houses western missions, including the US embassy.
Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement broadcast by Andalus Radio, its mouthpiece channel. CNN has been unable to independently verify this claim.
The Islamist insurgent group, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, wants to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
It claimed responsibility for a a truck bombing outside Mogadishu in December which killed 85 including two Turkish citizens.
Another terror attack at a hotel in Kismayo in Somalia’s Jubaland state in July left more than 26 people dead including journalists and local government officials.
The militant group also said it was behind a triple car bombing near a hotel in Mogadishu in which at least 52 people were killed and 100 injured in November 2018.
US forces that had been based in Somalia began their withdrawal from the country in December and were redirected to other bases in East Africa.
US troops in Somalia primarily train and advise local Somali forces as they battle Al-Shabaab. The US military also carries out airstrikes against the group and the local ISIS affiliate in the country, killing a top Al-Shabaab leader in a targeted strike in September.
Former US President Donald Trump ordered the majority of US troops to leave Somalia “by early 2021,” in just one of the major military policy decisions taken in the final days of his administration.
Omar Nor reported from Mogadishu and Radina Gigova wrote from Atlanta, Georgia.