At least 26 people have been killed in an attack on a hotel in southern Somalia claimed by al-Shabaab, an official has said.
Gunmen stormed the Medina hotel in the port city of Kismayo after a suicide bomber drove a vehicle loaded with explosives into the building on Friday.
A Briton, Americans, Kenyans and Tanzanians were among the dead, said Ahmed Mohamed, the president of the autonomous Jubaland region, while a presidential candidate for the upcoming regional elections was also killed. Four attackers were shot dead, a police officer said.
Witnesses said a social media activist, her husband and a local journalist were among those killed.
Hussein Muktar, who witnessed the attack, said: “The blast was very big. There is chaos inside; I saw several dead bodies carried from the scene, and people are fleeing from the nearby buildings.”
The Somali journalists’ association said two journalists based in Kismayo were killed in the attack. “Mohamed Omar Sahal, [an] SBC TV correspondent based in Kismayo, and Hodan Naleyeh, [a] female TV journalist and [the] founder of Integration TV, are both among those killed,” said Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the assocation’s secretary general. Naleyeh had recently returned from Canada, he said.
They were the first journalists to be killed in Somalia this year, the association said.
The attack is the latest in a long line of bombings and shootings claimed by al-Shabaab.
“Mujahideen fighters carried out a martyrdom attack on one of the hotels accommodating the apostate officials of the Jubaland administration,” the group said.
According to several sources, most of those staying at the hotel were politicians and traders preparing for the upcoming regional elections.
Al-Shabaab, which declared allegiance to al-Qaida in 2012, has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government.
The militant group, estimated to number between 5,000 and 9,000, continues to control swathes of rural Somalia despite losing many strongholds across the country, including areas of the capital, Mogadishu.
|People at the scene of an attack by al-Shabaab in November last year in Mogadishu. Photograph: Abdirazak Hussein Farah/Getty Images