Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group has taken responsibility for a suicide attack on a hotel in Mogadishu that has killed more than 30 people, including seven parliament members.
Al-Shabab spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage, says members of the group's "special forces" targeted Somali parliament members residing in Muna Hotel in Mogadishu's government-controlled Hamarweyne district.
Rage says al-Shabab fighters were able to easily enter the hotel compound, located near the presidential palace. He claims almost all of the parliament members in the hotel were killed.
It is not known how many lawmakers were inside. But Somalia's Transitional Federal Government says six lawmakers and two government officials were killed during the attack. Reports say another lawmaker subsequently died of wounds in the hospital.
Witnesses tell VOA that three gunmen, dressed as government security forces, entered the hotel by car after killing two security guards. The gunmen then went door-to-door, shooting indiscriminately.
Government security forces and African Union peacekeeping troops, known as AMISOM, surrounded the building and engaged in an hour-long battle with the militants. Witnesses say when the gunmen ran out of ammunition, two of the men detonated explosives-laden suicide vests.
The Somali government initially said that its security forces had captured one of the three gunmen. But later, it issued a statement saying that only two men had stormed the hotel. The government says both men died in the suicide bombing.
In addition to the lawmakers and government officials, more than two dozen others, including civilians and several government troops, were killed. The director of a local community radio station reportedly died after being struck by a stray bullet as he watched the battle from a nearby rooftop.
Tuesday's attack follows al-Shabab's warning that it is planning a "massive war" against African Union troops in Mogadishu. About 6,000 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi make up the peacekeeping force, which arrived in 2007 with a mandate to protect the U.N.-backed government and key installations.
Three years of fighting between peacekeepers and Islamist insurgents have caused thousands of civilian deaths and prompted hundreds of thousands of others to flee Mogadishu.
Despite repeated demands by al-Shabab to withdraw the peacekeeping force, Uganda is believed to have sent hundreds of reinforcements to the Somali capital in recent days.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for dual suicide attacks on July 11 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, which the militants said were in retaliation for the country's military involvement in Somalia. The extremist group has also threatened to attack Burundi.