At least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded in a gun and bomb attack by the al-Shabab armed group on an upscale beachfront hotel in Somalia’s capital.

The hotel siege ended on Sunday after a fierce three-hour gun battle between al-Shabab fighters and security forces that began with a suicide car bombing, government spokesman Ismael Mukhtar Omar said.

Omar said the death toll includes 11 victims and five assailants, Omar said on Twitter.

Dr Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of AAMIN ambulance services, told Reuters news agency on Monday they transported at least 43 people wounded in the attack to hospitals.

The attack started in the afternoon with a powerful car bomb blast that blew off the security gates to the hotel. Then, gunmen ran inside and took hostages, mostly young men and women who were dining there, he said.

Ambulance sirens could be heard in the area which had a power outage when the attack started.

Military vehicles were later seen taking position around the hotel in the night, with officials initially concerned the darkness would prolong the siege.

The hotel is owned by Abdullahi Mohamed Nor, a lawmaker and former finance minister, and is frequented by government officials and members of the Somali diaspora.

Powerful blast
Witnesses confirmed the attack began with a heavy explosion and reported that people were running from the area as gunfire could be heard from the hotel, which is frequented by government officials, journalists and civil society activists.

“The blast was very heavy and I could see smoke in the area. There is chaos and people are fleeing from nearby buildings,” said witness Ali Sayid Adan.

Al-Shabab said it carried out the attack, according to a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The armed group claimed its fighters “took control over the hotel” in the “martyrdom-seeking operation”.

Somalia plunged into chaos after the 1991 overthrow of then-President Siad Barre’s military regime, leading to years of clan warfare followed by the rise of al-Shabab which once controlled large parts of the country and Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab was driven out of the capital in 2011, but its fighters continue to wage war against the government, carrying out regular attacks.

Last week, four al-Shabab fighters held in Mogadishu’s central prison were killed in a shoot-out with security forces after they reportedly managed to get their hands on weapons within the facility.