MOGADISHU - Islamist rebels detonated a car bomb at the entrance of a hotel in the Somali capital on Friday and then stormed inside where politicians had gathered, killing at least 10 people including a lawmaker and lightly wounding two ministers.
Al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attack, aims to topple the Western-backed federal government and impose its strict version of Islamic sharia law on the Horn of Africa nation that is struggling to rebuild after two decades of war.
The suicide attack targeted the Central Hotel around midday on Friday, typically a busy time for hotels as it is the Somali weekend. Ambulances wailed as they raced to the scene where a huge plume of smoke rose above the Indian Ocean coastal city.
"We are behind the attack," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military operations spokesman, told Reuters. "We targeted government officials in the hotel; this is part of our operation in Mogadishu."
"First the car bomb exploded at the gate of the hotel, then a suicide bomber blew himself up in the hotel compound," police Major Nur Mohamed told Reuters. "There were ministers and legislators inside the hotel."
He said at least 10 people had been killed, including a lawmaker, security officers and civilians. "But the death toll may rise," he added. Gunshots were heard for a short period inside the hotel after the attack.