At least ten people were killed and more than 30 others were injured in two powerful explosions and gun fire in the Somali capital Friday evening, witnesses said.
Witnesses reported a truck filled with explosives was detonated at a security checkpoint near Hotel SYL in Mogadishu at around 7:45 p.m. local time.
Somali Security Minister Abdirizak Omar Mohamed told VOA Somali that five members of the national security agency were instantly killed at the checkpoint at the initial impact of the explosion. He said the suicidal driver was also killed.
Moments later, three gunmen got out of a car and started firing in an attempt to force their way into Hotel SYL, but security forces blocked them.
Mohamed said security forces and guards at the hotel shot and killed the three militants before they reached the hotel. Witnesses confirmed that the Al-Shabab militants were unable to enter the hotel. Mohamed praised the security forces for their quick action.
At 8:15 p.m., a second small car used by the gunmen was detonated causing further casualties and damage and creating confusion at the scene.
The Somalia government said it had so far confirmed the death of 10 people, including at least 4 attackers. Witnesses and security sources report the death toll is twice that number.
Officials at Medina and Dar-al-Shifa hospitals in Mogadishu reported receiving more than 30 people who were injured; at least six of them are in serious condition.
Security officials say initial assessment of the explosion shows the first truck bomb was the "most powerful" explosion Al-Shabab has used in the capital Mogadishu over the years.
"There were two vehicles filled with explosive,” an official told VOA. “One was parked right in front of Hotel SYL; the other one was a truck filled with homemade explosives estimated to be containing 200kg of explosives. That is one that caused most of the casualties, including the five agents."
Pictures taken by local journalists show an explosion from the truck bomb sending a huge fireball over the city.
A witness at a restaurant in the nearby Peace Garden who spoke to the VOA reporter in Mogadishu says the impact of the truck bomb damaged the windows and walls of the restaurant. He said he thought the explosion happened inside the restaurant. A VOA reporter says the heavy blast damaged many nearby buildings.
Al-Shabab militants claimed responsibility for the attack.