'Massive explosion', attack under way at Mogadishu hotel

Mogadishu (AFP) - A huge blast followed by heavy gunfire rocked a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Saturday, a resident and AFP reporters said, the latest in a string of attacks targeting hotels and restaurants.

"There is heavy fire going on inside the hotel, it started after the massive explosion but we cannot know what is going on," resident Abdihafid Mudey, who lives near the hotel, told AFP.

There were no immediate reports of casualties but several security sources confirmed to AFP that an attack was under way.

AFP journalists in Mogadishu said a powerful explosion was heard at around 16:30 pm (1330 GMT), followed by two other blasts.

The Naasa Hablood hotel in southern Mogadishu is often used by politicians and members of the Somali diaspora visiting the city.

Somali security forces cordoned off access to the neighbourhood in which the hotel is located, an AFP photographer said.

Saturday's attack came just three weeks after another assault quickly claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab group on the city's Ambassador hotel left 10 dead including two lawmakers when a huge car bomb ripped the front off the six-storey building.

Shabaab gunmen besieged the Ambassador hotel for more than 12 hours.

- Spike in violence -

The Shabaab lost their foothold in the capital in 2011 but continue their battle to overthrow the Somali government and launch regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets like hotels and restaurants in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

In November last year, the Islamists carried out a similar attack on the Sahafi hotel in central Mogadishu, leaving at least 12 dead.

Across the border in Kenya, five policemen were killed on Monday when suspected Shabaab fighters attacked their convoy.

Shabaab insurgents have staged repeated attacks in Kenya, including the killing of at least 67 people at Nairobi's Westgate Mall in 2013 and the massacre of 148 people at a university in Garissa in April 2015.

The Shabaab earlier this month confirmed the death in a special forces raid of a commander named Mohamed Mohamud aka Dulyadin, who was suspected of organising the Garissa University attack.

In recent months they have also claimed attacks on bases of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

The authorities in Nairobi have vowed to send back 350,000 Somali refugees living in Dadaab camp in northeast Kenya.

The UN refugee agency however has called on Kenya to ensure the repatriation is carried out "in a humane, dignified manner, in line with international principles".

The vast majority of residents of the sprawling Dadaab complex of camps close to the Kenya-Somalia border fled Somalia's more than two-decades long conflict. Many remain fearful of returning to a country where insecurity remains rife and poverty is widespread.

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