Gunmen stormed a government building in Somalia’s capital after a suicide car bombing on Saturday, killing at least five people including the country’s deputy labour minister, police said, in the latest attack by Islamic extremist fighters in the Horn of Africa nation.
Somali security forces were exchanging gunfire with at least five attackers and trying to rescue public servants trapped inside the Mogadishu building, which houses the ministries of labour and works, police Capt. Mohamed Hussein said.
Saqar Ibrahim Abdalla, Somalia’s deputy minister of labour and social affairs, was killed in his ground-floor office shortly after gunmen stormed the building, he said.
The death toll is expected to rise as dozens of people were believed to be inside the building at the time of the attack since Saturday is a working day in Somalia.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the ongoing attack, saying that its fighters were inside the building, which is located not far from the headquarters of the Somali intelligence agency.
As the attack unfolded, gunfire could be heard from inside the building. White smoke billowed from the scene, according to witnesses.
A similar attack targeting a busy area in Mogadishu at the end of February killed at least 24 people. That attack also began with a pair of car bombs exploding in a popular area of Mogadishu where Somalis were relaxing at restaurants.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab frequently carries out suicide bombings targeting public places, hotels and government offices.
Al-Shabab, Africa’s most active Islamic extremist group, has been fighting for years to take power and create an Islamic state in Somalia.
The group continues to mount lethal attacks despite being pushed out of Mogadishu. It mostly operates from rural areas in the country’s south.
African Union peacekeepers stationed in Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country have helped Somali forces to keep al-Shabab fighters at bay.
The group has carried out many deadly attacks in neighbouring Kenya in retaliation over Kenya’s deployment in 2011 of peacekeepers in Somalia.
The U.S. military has carried out a number of deadly airstrikes in recent months against al-Shabab.
Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.
Abdi Guled, The Associated Press