Somali officials say dozens of people were killed or wounded when al-Shabab militants attacked a Mogadishu hotel with two vehicle bombs and a gun assault Wednesday.
Dr. Abdulkadir Abdirahman Aden, the head of ambulance services in Mogadishu, says medical teams have collected the bodies of 28 people so far.
Earlier, the Somali government said more than 50 others were injured. The National Union of Somali Journalists said seven journalists were among those wounded.
The attack started just before 9 a.m. local time when a suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives outside the Dayah hotel, according to witnesses. The hotel is frequented by business people and members of parliament.
Somali Security Minister Abdirizak Omar Mohamed said the truck was loaded with charcoal to disguise the explosives.
Moments later, another vehicle arrived with four armed militants, who stormed the damaged hotel and exchanged fire with hotel guards and security forces. The gunmen also entered a building next to the hotel where they killed two security agents.
Amid the gunfire, the vehicle that brought the gunmen exploded, injuring bystanders. Officials believe it was detonated by remote control.
A video report from the scene, filed by VOA's Somali service, showed at least two sides of the hotel completely ripped away and flames leaping from the roof of a nearby building.
Islamic militant group al-Shabab, which has carried out similar attacks on Mogadishu hotels in the past, claimed responsibility on its website for Wednesday's attack.
Buildings near the hotel sustained massive damage.
Mohamed Hussein, who owns a barbershop in one of the buildings, said his business is destroyed and that one of his staffers is missing. “My colleague is underneath. We don’t know whether he is dead or alive," he said.
The business next to his, a restaurant, was also destroyed. He said four bodies were found in the restaurant.
Ahmed Yusuf Suleiman is a journalist who lives near the Dayah. “When you see it with your eyes, it looks like a place where fighting has been going on for 10 years,” he said. “About five buildings nearby were destroyed or damaged.”
Suleiman says his house was damaged and corrugated metal sheets blown off by the first explosion.
Duniya Mohamed Ali is the head of medical services at Medina Hospital, Mogadishu’s largest medical facility. She said 28 people were brought to the hospital Wednesday with injuries from the attack.
“One lost a kidney, some lost arteries, some punctured veins and they need respiratory repairs,” she said. “Some have head injuries and they will need surgery but we don’t have neurosurgeons in Mogadishu.”
Ali says when someone is injured, the lives of entire families can be impacted.
“These are families who already did not have much," she said. "They are economically destroyed, and they need a lot of help, not just moral support but also economical support.”
Al-Shabab launches periodic bomb-and-gun attacks against Mogadishu hotels and other places where government officials are known to congregate. The group has been fighting since 2006 to overthrow the government and set up a strict Islamic state.