Al-Shabab militants on Friday attacked a major hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing at least nine people, including a Somali ambassador.
Witnesses said the attack on the Maka al-Mukarama hotel began with a car bomb explosion outside the facility, and then an unknown number of gunmen stormed inside.
Gurey Haji Hassan, co-owner and manager of the hotel, said the gunmen entered through the back door after detonating the bomb and seized control of the facility.
Somali government special forces known as the Gashaan entered the hotel to hunt down the gunmen. Gunshots and blasts, with ambulance sirens in the background, were heard as security forces fought with the terrorists, attempting to free those trapped inside the hotel.
Witnesses told VOA that militants were still holed up in the hotel at nightfall. They said guests had locked themselves in their rooms and were calling security forces to tell them where they were located.
An official at Mogadishu's Medina hospital told VOA's Somali service that Somalia's ambassador to Switzerland, Yusuf Mohamed Ismail Bari Bari, was brought to the hospital with serious injuries from the attack and later died.
Also killed was a Somali-American woman from Virginia who returned to Somalia last year to work as a consultant with the Somali central bank. Relatives told VOA that Farhiya Bashir Nur was in the hotel at the time of the attack.
A journalist at the scene of the attack told VOA that the initial blast killed at least three soldiers and two civilians. Police said some of the attackers had also been killed.
Mohamed Tifow, Somalia’s ambassador to Germany, was rescued by the country’s security forces from his hotel apartment.
"I was not harmed," he said. "Thank God the Somali national security forces came to my rescue, brought me a ladder and rescued me from my apartment."
The hotel is popular with politicians, members of parliament and Somalis from the diaspora and has been attacked at least three times before.
Hassan said local officials had downplayed security threats against the hotel.
"I have been refused [permission] to erect a roadblock outside," he said.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for Friday's attack soon after it began. The al-Qaida-linked group is known for assaults on large buildings, such as the Westgate mall in Nairobi in 2013 and Somalia's presidential palace, which it attacked twice last year.