A suspected suicide car bomb exploded near a checkpoint in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Sunday, witnesses said, followed by gunfire around a nearby hotel.
Police said there were casualties but numbers were unknown.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the militant Islamist group al Shabaab frequently carries out bombings in its war on Somalia’s government, which is backed by the United Nations and African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops.
“A speeding car exploded near the hotel and checkpoint. The blast shook us and heavy gunfire followed,” shopkeeper Ali Abdulahi told Reuters of the incident in the busy kilometer 4 area of the coastal city.
“I suspect the militants entered Hotel Afrik. That is where the exchange of gunfire is now taking place.”
A Reuters journalist saw security forces besiege the area, where cars are inspected en route to the airport and where politicians regularly gather at the hotel.
Police spokesman Sadik Ali said many people had been rescued from the Hotel Afrik. “There must be casualties because the militants first started the attack with a suicide car bomb against the wall,” he told Reuters.
“The operation still goes on, casualties will be known later.”
Al Shabaab is allied with al Qaeda and wants to rule Somalia according to its interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
There was no immediate word from Somali officials or the AU mission.