Suspected Islamists attack Somali hotel, kill at least two

Two bombs ripped into a hotel in the centre of the Somali capital on Sunday morning and police fought suspected Islamist gunmen who stormed inside the building, police and witnesses said. At least two people were killed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility after the explosions, but police blamed the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which has frequently launched attacks in Mogadishu.

The incident mirrored tactics used before by al Shabaab, in which it detonates bombs to break through security at targets and then sends in fighters. Al Shabaab wants to topple Somalia's Western-backed government and has promised more attacks.

"A car bomb rammed into the gate of Sahafi hotel. So far I have seen two civilians dead," Major Ahmed Nur, a police officer, told Reuters after the first blast, which was followed by another explosion at the entrance.

Police were still exchanging fire with attackers inside the hotel about an hour after the attack started.

"Fighters with machines guns are firing at us from the rooftop of the hotel," Major Osman Ali, another police officer said after the second explosion, which a security guard in the area said was also a car bomb like the first.

The hotel, which lies near a busy area in Mogadishu known as K-4, is often used by lawmakers and government officials.

"The death toll may rise," said police officer Nur as plumes of smoke rose above the capital on the Indian Ocean coast. "We believe al Shabaab was behind it."

A Reuters witness saw wrecked cars and destroyed motorbikes in the area, as well as two dead civilians lying outside. At least three others were injured. Some parts of the hotel were damaged.