MOGADISHU, Somalia - Five people including three civilians were killed when jihadist militants stormed a hotel in Somalia's capital, police said Wednesday, adding that all five attackers had also died after an hours-long siege.
The attack on Tuesday evening, claimed by the Islamist group al-Shabaab, took place at a hotel in Mogadishu popular with politicians, army officers and diplomats.
"Our brave security forces ended the terror attack on SYL hotel rescuing more than 80 people" including government officials and hotel guests, police said in a statement.
"The number of the dead we have confirmed is five, among them two members of the security forces and three civilians. Nine other civilians and two soldiers were also wounded slightly".
Several witnesses told AFP that the assailants were dressed in police uniform, which allowed them to approach the hotel without arousing suspicion.
They then opened fire and threw grenades, triggering an armed response from security forces guarding checkpoints leading to the nearby presidential palace.
After several hours of siege, police killed the two last attackers holed up inside the hotel, which has suffered three previous deadly attacks, all claimed by al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab posted a statement online saying it had carried out an operation "which happened as planned", but gave no further details.
The police statement said the attack was carried out "by five people who have been sent by the terrorists to threaten the Somali public and all of them were killed".
NO CAR BOMB
Al-Shabaab -- allied to Al-Qaeda -- was forced out of the Somali capital in 2011 but still controls parts of the countryside and continues to launch attacks in Mogadishu.
The group often strikes the most prominent hotels and restaurants, and has also staged attacks in neighboring Kenya.
The SYL hotel is close to the main entrance of the Villa Somalia government complex, a high-security area that includes the presidential palace, the prime minister's office and ministry buildings.
Unusually for an al-Shabaab attack, the jihadists did not use a car bomb to try and blast through the hotel's exterior wall, said police officer Suleyman Adan.
"It appears that the attackers have changed their tactics. It was easy for them to disguise themselves and enter the building," he added,
Adan said that a large number of hotel guests had been quickly evacuated by police through the hotel's service doors and emergency exits.
Witnesses described scenes of panic and confusion as the attack began.
"I was close to the hotel when the gunfire broke out and we managed to turn our vehicle swiftly," said Abdukadir Ahmed.
"The security forces around the palace checkpoints were firing heavy machine-guns but we don't exactly know who was fighting who."
Another witness, Ali Moalim Nur, told AFP that one of his friends who escaped the hotel had suffered a fracture after jumping off a wall.
In January 2015, five people were killed when a suicide car bomber rammed the gates of the same hotel on the eve of a visit by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In February 2016, twin blasts set off close to the SYL hotel and the neighbouring Peace Garden killed 14 people.
Then in August of the same year, a suicide car bomb attack on the hotel killed 15 people.