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Mar 27, 2:18 PM EDT

At least 9 dead as militants attack hotel in Somali capital


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AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Al-Shabab militants blasted their way into a Mogadishu hotel and took positions inside, exchanging fire with security forces seeking to regain control of the facility late Friday, a Somali police official said.

At least four gunmen had trapped an unknown number of people inside the building, Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press.

Al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group that has carried out many attacks here, claimed responsibility for the assault on the Maka Al-Mukarramah hotel, which is popular with Somali government officials and foreigners.

Some people jumped out of the hotel's windows, and one who made it safely outside said the gunmen were killing anyone they could find.

Somali special forces, facing bullets from gunmen holed up inside dark corners of the hotel, trained their weapons on the hotel's windows. One bloodied government soldier, wounded from fighting inside, was dragged out by colleagues and bundled an ambulance.

The death toll is likely to rise as the security forces attempt to regain control of the hotel.

The attack started when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car at the gate of the hotel. Gunmen then quickly moved in, according to Hussein, who said he had counted at least nine bodies at the scene.

It remained unclear who was being targeted by the militants and how many civilians were inside the hotel when the attack was launched.

Al-Shabab routinely carries out suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks in Mogadishu, the seat of Somalia's Western-backed government - often targeting government troops, lawmakers and foreigners.

Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia's capital and other major cities by African Union forces. Despite major setbacks in 2014, al-Shabab continues to wage a deadly insurgency against Somalia's government and remains a threat in the East African region.

The group has carried out attacks in neighboring countries, including Kenya, whose military is part of the African Union troops bolstering Somalia's weak government.

At least 67 people were killed in a September 2013 attack by al-Shabab on a mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

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