SOMALI terror group Al Shabaab have detonated a huge car bomb and stormed a popular tourist hotel in the capital Mogadishu.
Residents said the blast sent a large plume of smoke into the air as the sound of gunfire rung out.
A police officer said the car bomb struck the gate of a park behind the heavily fortified SYL hotel and most people escaped through another gate.
Police Major Ahmad Ismail told Reuters it was not clear if the Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters were inside the hotel and did not say if there were any casualties.
“I heard an exchange of gunfire around the area. I am not sure whether or not the attackers are in the hotel,” he said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, although Al Shabaab has often launched attacks in Mogadishu on a Friday – the Somali weekend – when people often visit hotels and restaurants.
“We started with a car bomb and then stormed the hotel. We are inside it and fighting continues,” Al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters.
The group later told the BBC that they are now “in control” of the hotel.
He said it was the Somali Youth League hotel, known as the SYL hotel.