Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgents killed at least 25 people on Friday in an attack on a popular hotel in the capital Mogadishu where government ministers and officials were holding Friday prayers.
Twin explosions followed by heavy gunfire were heard from the upmarket Central Hotel, close to the presidential palace, with the Islamist gunmen reportedly blasting their way into the fortified building before storming the complex.
"The building was badly hit, the explosion was very big, and I saw the bodies of 11 people carried away," police officer Abulrahman Ali said.
"There were many wounded people too, many of them seriously."
Government sources said that the deputy mayor of Mogadishu was among those killed, while the deputy prime minister and minister of transport were among the injured.
Thick clouds of black smoke were seen pouring from the hotel as the injured were rushed to hospital.
"There were people covered in blood, I counted 10 dead bodies but that was only in one area," Ali Hussein said, who was close to the hotel when the attack took place.
Al-Shabaab militants claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Our fighters attacked the Central Hotel," al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP. "The aim is to kill the apostate officials."
Al-Shabaab rebels have staged a string of similar attacks in their fight to overthrow the country's internationally-backed government.
On Monday, al-Shabaab gunmen killed four airport workers in a drive-by shooting in the center of Mogadishu. The Mogadishu airport's deputy director was one of the people killed. The attack took place near the airport in a bustling business district.
Al-Shabaab, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012 fought against the government and Ethiopian forces, gaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008.
The Islamist militants controlled Mogadishu and southern Somalia until they were driven out of the capital in 2011 and have steadily lost territory since 2014, but have launched guerrilla-style attacks on Somali army and African Union (AU) forces.
In 2014, AU forces, known as AMISOM, and Somali soldiers recaptured swathes of territory since launching an offensive last year which the AU envoy said had driven al-Shabaab from "85 percent" of areas it had controlled.
In addition to guerrilla attacks in Somalia, al-Shabaab has hit neighboring Kenya, which has sent forces to AMISOM.
Other AMISOM contributors are Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Sierra Leone is a contributor but is pulling out, with other remaining states filling the gap.
Somalia has remained in the grip of continuous violence since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.
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