A general view at the scene of a bomb explosion at the Afrik Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, with crowds seen in the street
Al-Shabab militants regularly attack

Militant Islamists in Somalia have been involved in a gun battle with security forces at a hotel in the capital, Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab said it was behind the attack at the Afrik Hotel, which began with a car bomb on Sunday afternoon.

It is not yet confirmed how many casualties there are, but police said many people had been rescued.

The group, which is linked to al-Qaeda, regularly carries out attacks against the government.

A car hit the hotel’s front entrance and detonated before gunmen stormed the building, according to officials and others at the scene.

“The blast made the hotel tremble as we sat inside and were talking. We were panicked, confused,” eyewitness Ahmed Nur was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Ambulances are seen near the scene of a car bomb explosionAmbulances are seen near the scene of a car bomb explosion
Ambulances have been pictured near the scene of the bomb attack

The militants targeted the Afrik Hotel despite the fact that it is in a heavily guarded area near the city’s main airport, the BBC’s Bella Hassan reported from Mogadishu.

The hotel is known to be a gathering place for Somali government officials and a local police captain said a number of lawmakers and senior military officials were inside at the time of the attack.

Footage on social media showed large plumes of smoke rising across the city earlier on Sunday.

The violent siege comes just weeks after former US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of some 700 troops who had been supporting local security force efforts against militant groups, including al-Shabab.

There are fears the withdrawal could lead to further instability in the country, which is due to hold elections next month.