Mogadishu suicide bombing: Gunmen fight police; 29 dead

Mogadishu suicide bombing: Gunmen fight police; 29 dead

Flames are burning at the scene where a suicide car bomb exploded targeting a Mogadishu hotel in a business center in Maka Al Mukaram street in Mogadishu, Somalia. February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Feisal Omar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

 The death toll from an Al Shabaab suicide car bombing at a Mogadishu hotel rose to 29 with 80 wounded, police said on Friday, as a gun battle raged at the site of the blast between fighters of the militant group and Somali troops.

"So far we know 29 people mostly civilians died and 80 others injured. The militants are still fighting from inside a civilian house adjacent to the hotel... The death toll may rise," police Major Musa Ali told Reuters.

The blast hit the Maka Al-Mukarama hotel on Thursday evening.

A gun battle raged in Mogadishu on Friday between Somali soldiers and Al Shabaab fighters, holed up in a building next to a hotel they had hit with a suicide car bomb the previous evening.

"The security forces rescued dozens of civilians in the hotel and nearby buildings. The militants are still inside and exchange of fire still continues," Major Mohamed Hussein, a police officer, told Reuters on Friday.

"The death toll may rise. It was very difficult for the security forces to enter the building last night because it is dark and electricity was cut by the blast. Now it is daybreak, and we hope the operation will be concluded in the following hours," he said.

Al Shabaab's military spokesman said they still controlled the hotel.

"The government tried three times to enter the building but we repulsed them. We still control the hotel," said Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al Shabaab's military spokesman.

The main street of Maka Al Mukaram where the blast occurred was closed on Friday.

Reuters witnesses saw frantic residents in the city searching for missing relatives through the night, making countless phone calls to find out if anyone had seen their family members.

"I have been running to and fro from blast scene to hospitals since yesterday evening in search of my husband and brother who were selling a shop at the place where the blast took place. I have just seen them in hospital, they are in critical conditions. My husband lost his stomach and my brother suffered severe wounds to both arms," Halima Omar, a mother of three children told Reuters.

Somalia has been convulsed by lawlessness and violence since 1991. Islamist group Al Shabaab is fighting to dislodge a Western-backed government protected by African Union-mandated peacekeepers.