Somalia's president has vowed to continue the country’s fight against terrorism after his deputy prime minister was wounded, and at least 25 others, including two government officials were killed Friday when al-Shabab militants bombed a Mogadishu hotel.
Witnesses said the first explosion occurred just after guests finished midday prayers at the Central Hotel near the coastal city's National Theater. A second explosion followed, and then came gunfire.
Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Omar Arte was wounded, as was Transport and Aviation Minister Ali Ahmed Jama Jangali. The dead included Mogadishu's deputy mayor, Mohamed Aden Guled, and local official and author Abdishakur Mire Aden.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemned the bombings. In a statement, he said he was "very sorry and shocked that terrorist groups have once again targeted innocent Muslim people" as they prayed.
The leader also pledged Somalia’s government "will continue fighting terrorism until we completely eliminate it. I am sure this attack proves the hypocrisy of the terrorist group who claim to be acting in the name of religion, while carrying out acts that are completely un-Islamic."
Somali rescuers carry away the dead body of a civilian from the scene of a twin bombing attack on a hotel in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 20, 2015.
U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki moon called President Mohamud on Friday to express his condolences. A spokesman for Mr. Ban said the secretary believes "the terrorist attacks cannot deter the collective will of the Somali people to move forward, or the commitment of the United Nations."
Qasin Ahmed Roble, a spokesman for security forces, said a car filled with explosives was moved into the hotel during prayers. "We are investigating who detonated the car and how," he said. "We are questioning hotel guards."
White House reaction
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “The United States strongly condemns al-Shabab’s terrorist attack on the Central Hotel in Mogadishu today. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed in the attack and wish the injured a speedy recovery.
"This murderous attack targeting government ministers and members of parliament once again highlights that al-Shabab stands only for death and destruction and is firmly opposed to the Somali people’s efforts to build a secure and prosperous future, and we will continue to support the Somali people and their government as they rebuild their country. Those who stand in the way of Somalia’s progress will not succeed."
Officials, former journalists hit
Thick black smoke poured from the the Central Hotel, which is popular with officials, including members of parliament and government ministers.
Deputy Mayor Guled was a founder of Xog-Ogaal, Mogadishu's first independent newspaper and the only daily operating there since 1991.
Another victim, Aden, had worked as a reporter in Puntland and later became a local administrator. He wrote a book about Islamic movements in Somalia and was in Mogadishu doing research on a second book. Aden was a regular commentator on VOA Somali programs dealing with extremism.
Al-Shabab has been relentless
Despite losing more ground to African Union troops and Somali forces, al-Shabaab has carried out repeated attacks on government and civilian targets in Somalia in recent years as part of what it says is an effort to establish its version of Islamic law.
This is the Islamist militant group's second attack on a Mogadishu hotel in less than a month. In late January, three people were killed when a suicide car bomber blew himself up at the gate of a hotel housing a Turkish delegation. None of the delegation was injured.
Somali officials recently began looking for ways to improve security within the city because more top foreign government officials have been visiting.
In the past few weeks, the government has made significant changes to how security forces protect the population. There has been a heavier presence of security forces on Mogadishu streets, working to stop bomb and gun attacks and assassinations.
Information from Mary Alice Salinas and VOA's Somali service contributed to this report.