At least 12 people have been killed as a hotel siege in Somalia continues for a second day

MOGADISHU, Aug 20 (Reuters) – At least 12 people were killed in an attack by Al Qaeda militants on a hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, an intelligence official said on Saturday.

The attackers exploded inside the Hyatt Hotel on Friday evening with two car bombs before opening fire. Somalia’s Al Shabaab rebels claim responsibility. read more

“So far we have confirmed 12 deaths, mostly civilians,” intelligence official Mohammad told Reuters, giving only one name.

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Mohammed said the gunmen were holding an unknown number of hostages on the second floor of the building, preventing officers from using heavy weapons.

They bombed the stairwells to make access to some floors difficult, he said.

As the siege entered its second day on Saturday evening, authorities had secured 95% of the building, state broadcaster Somali National Television reported. The broadcaster did not provide an updated death toll.

Kashan, a paramilitary force specializing in counterinsurgency, was among those fighting the militants inside the hotel, a senior official told Reuters.

The explosions sent a plume of smoke over a busy intersection on Friday night, and the sound of gunfire still echoed across the capital on Saturday evening.

Eyewitnesses said they heard explosions as government forces tried to free the hotel from militants on Friday night.

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Large parts of the hotel were destroyed in the fighting, they said.

Friday’s attack was the first major such incident since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May.

Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist group reports.

Al Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the Somali government for more than 10 years. It wants to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

The Hyatt Hotel is a popular destination with lawmakers and other government officials. There was no immediate word on whether any of them were caught in the siege.

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Reporting by Abdi Shaikh By Duncan Miriri Editing by Sam Holmes, Christina Fincher and Francis Kerry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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