Islamist gunmen killed 26 people, including Kenyans, Americans, a Briton and Tanzanians, when they stormed a hotel in Somalia’s southern port city of Kismayo, a regional state president said on Saturday, the deadliest day in the city since insurgents were driven out in 2012.
A car bomb exploded at the hotel where local elders and politicians were meeting on Friday night, and then three gunmen stormed in, police said, adding that it took 11 hours before security forces ended the overnight attack.
The dead included a presidential candidate for August’s regional elections, Jubbaland state president Ahmed Mohamed Madobe said in a statement. At least two journalists and a UN agency staff member were reported to have been killed.
Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group al-Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia’s weak UN-backed government, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operation spokesman said on Saturday they had killed 30 people and four of its fighters were dead.
Al-Shabaab and government officials tend to give differing casualty numbers for attacks.
Mr Madobe said that three Kenyans, one Briton, two Americans and three Tanzanians were among those killed.
“Among the dead was also a Jubbaland presidential candidate named Shuuriye. Four militants attacked the hotel. One of them was the suicide car bomber, two were shot dead and one was captured alive by Jubbaland security forces,” he said.
He said 56 people were wounded in the attack, including two Chinese citizens.
Police had said earlier that all the attackers had been killed.
Kismayo resident Osman Nur told Reuters that the explosion had destroyed huge parts of the hotel and nearby businesses, and that security forces were deployed all over the city.
Jubbaland’s minister of planning, Just Aw Hersi, confirmed the deaths of several prominent Somalis on Twitter. He said some of the foreigners held dual Somali citizenship.
Al-Shabaab was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds.
It was driven out of Kismayo in 2012 by Kenyan forces supporting a regional militia headed by Mr Madobe. The city’s port had been a major source of revenue for the group from taxes, charcoal exports and levies on arms and other illegal imports.
Kismayo is the commercial capital of Jubbaland, a region of southern Somalia still partly controlled by al Shabaab.
The group remains a major security threat, with fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force that helps defend the Somali government.
Somalia is scheduled to have parliamentary elections this month and presidential elections next month. But relations between the central government and its federal states have been strained amid arguments over power and resources.