A powerful car bomb killed at least five people on Sunday outside a popular hotel in central Somalia, police and witnesses said, in an attack claimed by militants aligned with Al-Qaeda.
The blast injured 14 others and destroyed not just the hotel but adjacent buildings in Jowhar about 90 kilometres (56 miles) north of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
Police said the attackers rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into the outer wall of the Nur-doob hotel, popular with state lawmakers and other local officials.
“They have killed five civilians, among them women working in the hotel and security guards,” said Mohamed Ali, a police officer in Jowhar, told AFP.
“Fourteen other people were wounded, some of them inside buildings not even close to the hotel.”
Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based group tied to Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on a pro-militant website.
Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, who was endorsed by Somalia’s parliament in June after a recent change of government, sent condolences to the victims and offered to assist those injured.
Ali, the police officer, said the blast “was the biggest ever seen in Jowhar” and caused significant damage to buildings in the city.
Mahad Ibrahim, a Jowhar resident, said the explosion sent shrapnel flying and clouds of smoke and dust into the air.
The force of the shockwave ripped the roof of his house, he added.
“I have never seen such devastation. I saw some dead bodies recovered from under the debris of the part of the hotel that collapsed.”
Another witness, Abdirahman Shabelow, said bystanders were wounded by blast debris.
“I saw two civilians struck by shrapnel some distance from the hotel… the blast sent a powerful shockwave felt in every house across town.”
Al-Shabaab have been waging a deadly insurgency in Somalia for over a decade and remain capable of executing major attacks despite a long-running African Union operation to degrade the militants.