A suicide car bombing targeting a Mogadishu hotel by the extremist group Al Shabab on Thursday killed at least 29 people and destroyed buildings in the Somali capital’s busiest street, police said.
Police said another 80 people were injured in the attack on the Maka Al Mukarama hotel.
"So far we know 29 people mostly civilians died and 80 others injured. The militants are still fighting from inside a civilian house adjacent to the hotel... The death toll may rise," police Major Musa Ali told Reuters.
The bomb blast was followed by a shootout between the militants and security forces that continued into Friday morning.
Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We targeted and stormed Hotel Maka Al Mukaram. We are still inside it,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for the Al Qaeda-affiliated group.
He said the militants were still in control of the hotel after repelling three attempts to enter by government forces.
"It was very difficult for the security forces to enter the building last night because it is dark and electricity was cut by the blast. Now it is daybreak, and we hope the operation will be concluded in the following hours," said Maj Mohamed Hussein, another police officer.
Frantic residents searched for missing relatives through the night, making countless phone calls to find out if anyone had seen their family members.
"I have been running to and fro from blast scene to hospitals since yesterday evening in search of my husband and brother who were selling a shop at the place where the blast took place. I have just seen them in hospital, they are in critical conditions. My husband lost his stomach and my brother suffered severe wounds to both arms," Halima Omar, a mother of three, told Reuters.
Somalia has been convulsed by lawlessness and violence since 1991. Al Shabab has waged an insurgency since about 2006 in a bid to impose their version of Islamic law. The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 by Somali and African Union forces, but regularly carry out attacks in the capital.
The US military has been targeting Al Shabab with aerial strikes. It announced 47 strikes last year in which scores of militants were killed, and two in January.