The Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which is linked to al Qaeda and is trying to topple Somalia's central government, said it had carried out a suicide attack
By Abdiqani Hassan and Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU/GAROWE, Somalia, July 13 (Reuters) - Kenyans, Americans, a Briton and Tanzanians were among 26 people killed when Islamist gunmen stormed a hotel in the Somali port city of Kismayo, officials said on Saturday, the deadliest attack in the city since insurgents were driven out in 2012.
A car bomb exploded at the hotel in the southern port city while local elders and lawmakers were meeting on Friday night, before three gunmen stormed in, police said. Security forces took 11 hours to end the siege, they said.
The dead included a presidential candidate for August's Jubbaland regional elections, Jubbaland state president Ahmed Mohamed Madobe said. At least two journalists and a U.N. agency staff member were also reported to have been killed.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia's weak, U.N.-backed government, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group's military operations spokesman, said militants killed 30 people, while four al Shabaab fighters had also died.
The jihadist group and government officials tend to give differing casualty figures for attacks.
Regional president Madobe said three Kenyans, one Briton, two Americans and three Tanzanians were among those killed.
"Four militants attacked the hotel. One of them was the suicide car bomber, two were shot dead and one was captured alive by Jubbaland security forces," he said, adding that 56 people were wounded in the attack, including two Chinese.
Police had earlier said all the attackers were killed.
Kismayo is the commercial capital of Jubbaland, a region still partly controlled by al Shabaab, whose fighters frequently carry out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of an African Union peacekeeping force.
Britain's foreign ministry said it was in touch with local authorities for information about the Kismayo attack. A U.S. State Department official confirmed that at least one U.S. citizen was among the dead.
Kismayo resident Osman Nur told Reuters the explosion destroyed parts of the hotel and nearby businesses and security forces were deployed across the city. TV footage showed walls peppered with bullet holes and furniture strewn across the hotel courtyard.
Halima Nur, a mother of four, said by phone that her nephew who worked at the hotel was killed. "I got his dead body this morning and have just buried him," she said. "And this afternoon I will attend the burial of other relatives."
The Somalia office of the U.N. International Organization for Migration said local staff member Abdifatah Mohamed was killed. SADO Somalia, a local non-governmental organisation, said its executive director Abdullahi Isse Abdulle had died.
Two journalists were among the dead: Somali-Canadian Hodan Nalayeh, the founder of Integration TV, and Mohamed Sahal Omar, a reporter for SBC TV in Kismayo, while Nalayeh's husband Jama Fariid was also killed, the Jubbaland president said.
"Through her work as a journalist, Hodan highlighted the community's positive stories and contributions in Canada. She became a voice for many. We mourn her loss deeply, and all others killed in the #KismayoAttack," Ahmed Hussen, Canada's immigration minister, wrote on Twitter.
The Somali Journalists Syndicate said Jubbaland security personnel ordered journalists to stop filming funerals of their colleagues and beat them, injuring four reporters. Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mahad Nur, a Tanzanian hotelier, property developer and supermarket owner, also died, Tanzanian deputy health minister Faustine Ndugulile said on Twitter.
Jubbaland's minister of planning, Aw Hersi, said some of the foreign nationals killed also held Somali citizenship.
Al Shabaab was forced out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds.
It was driven out of Kismayo in 2012 by Kenyan forces in support of a regional militia headed by Madobe. The city's port had been a major source of revenue for the Islamists from taxes, charcoal exports and levies on arms and other illegal imports.
Jubbaland is scheduled to have parliamentary elections this month and presidential elections in August. (Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu, George Obulutsa in Nairobi and Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala in Dar es Salaam; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Edmund Blair)
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