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Al Qaeda-linked group claims deadly hotel attack in Somalia

Residents carry an injured man wounded during a complex attack targeting a Mogadishu hotel, Jan. 25, 2017.

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Last Updated Jan 25, 2017 5:05 AM EST

HARGEISA, Somalia -- Islamic extremist rebels fought their way into a hotel in the Somali capital after a suicide car bomb exploded at its gates, officials said Wednesday.

Dozens of people, including lawmakers, were thought to have been staying at Mogadishu’s Dayah hotel at the time of the morning attack, said Capt. Mohamed Hussein.

Heavy gunfire could still be heard inside the hotel, Hussein said. 

Somali Security Minister Abdirizak Umar told reporters at the scene of the attack that the “preliminary casualty figure” was 15 people dead, including four members of the country’s security forces and 11 civilians, and more than 50 others  wounded.

 According to the Reuters news agency, Umar said the attack included two bomb blasts, not just the initial one at the gate. 

Somalia’s homegrown Islamic extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack via its online radio, Andalus, saying its fighters succeeded in entering the hotel and an “operation is ongoing now.”

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Residents carry an injured man wounded during a complex attack targeting a Mogadishu hotel Jan. 25, 2017.

Getty

Al-Shabab frequently targets hotels and other public places often visited by government officials and foreigners. Al Qaeda’s East African affiliate is fighting to impose a strict version of Islam in the Horn of Africa nation.

In June, gunmen stormed the Nasa-Hablod hotel, killing at least 14 people. Two weeks before that, gunmen killed 15, including two members of parliament, at the Ambassador hotel.

Despite being ousted from most of its key strongholds, al-Shabab continues to carry out deadly guerrilla attacks across large parts of south and central Somalia.

In March, 2016, the Pentagon said a U.S. airstrike hit an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia as militants prepared to launch a large-scale attack.

CBS News correspondent David Martin said, according to Pentagon officials, the fighters were in the final stages of planning an attack against the African Union Mission in Somalia, which includes U.S. personnel. 

Earlier this month, a bomb explosion at a restaurant in Mogadishu killed three, and a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at a security checkpoint near Mogadishu’s international airport, killing at least three. That blast occurred a few hundred yards from the main base of the African Union peacekeeping mission.

Al-Shabab’s assaults have threatened this nation’s attempts to rebuild from decades of chaos. The presidential election, a key step toward recovery, already has been delayed several times because of security and other concerns.