Al Shabaab militants besiege hotel in Mogadishu; Somali parliament session postponed 0

At least four people were killed in an ongoing attack by Al Shabaab militants who laid siege to a popular hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu overnight, a national security agency official told AFP on Monday.

Gunfire and explosions could still be heard more than 12 hours after the militants stormed the Villa Rose hotel near the presidential palace in a hail of bullets.

Mohamed Dahir, an official from the national security agency, told AFP the gunmen were holed up in a room at the hotel surrounded by government forces.

“So far we have confirmed the death of four people”, he said, adding that others had been rescued from the besieged venue.

Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab militants stormed the hotel on Sunday using guns and explosives, with a police officer saying at the time that some government officials escaped from its windows.

“There is still heavy gunfire inside the hotel and we hear explosions from time to time … we are still in our houses since last night, when the siege started,” Ismail Haaji, who lives near the hotel, told Reuters.

Special forces units, known as Haramcad and Gaashaan, had taken over operations, said a police officer at the scene who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The fighters who launched the attack are still fighting inside the hotel, and they are fighting with the forces of Haramcad and Gaashaan, and security forces are trying to rescue the people trapped inside the hotel,” the officer added.

Government officials in Mogadishu frequently use the Villa Rose hotel for meetings.

Somalia’s parliament said it had postponed a scheduled session for both of its houses.

“All members of parliament of both councils are being informed that today’s scheduled meeting has been postponed,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.

Al Shabaab, which is seeking to topple the government and establish its own rule based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, frequently stages attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected this year, has launched a military offensive against the group.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and Reuters)