17 killed, 26 wounded in restaurant attack

In an attack inside a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital, that began when a car bomb exploded at the gate, and gun men posing as military forces were holding an unknown number of hostages inside the restaurant.

At least 17 people, including foreigners, were dead, police and an ambulance driver said.

The extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility.

Two of the gunmen were shot dead and 10 hostages were rescued but five other attackers were thought to remain inside, cutting off electricity to complicate security forces’ efforts to end the siege, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said. He said heavy gunfire was heard.

An ambulance driver with the Amin Ambulance service, Khalif Dahir, said early Thursday they had carried 17 bodies and 26 wounded people. Police said the dead included a Syrian man. Most of the victims were young men who had been entering the Pizza House when the vehicle exploded, Hussein said.

Wednesday night’s blast largely destroyed the restaurant’s facade and sparked a fire. While al-Shabab claimed to have attacked the neighbouring Posh Treats restaurant, which is frequented by the city’s elite and was damaged in the blast, security officials said the Pizza House was targeted instead.

Security forces rescued Asian, Ethiopian, Kenyan and other workers at Posh Treats as the attack continued, Hussein said.

The Somalia-based al-Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu, including hotels, military checkpoints and areas near the presidential palace. It has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government launched a new military offensive against it.

Al-Shabab last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, with more than 4,200 people killed in 2016, according to the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies.