Suicide car bomb explodes outside Somalia restaurant, at least 9 killed

A suspected suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle outside of a restaurant and hotel in the Somali capital on Wednesday, killing at least nine people and wounding several others, police said.

The blast targeted the Pizza House restaurant, a popular eatery in Mogadishu, and the Posh Hotel a few meters away. The car exploded at the restaurant’s gate.

An eyewitness told The Associated Press that attackers posing as Somali security forces forced people inside of the Pizza House, where police say dozens of people are thought to be held hostage.

Initial reports claimed gunmen rushed inside the restaurant soon after the explosion.

Most of the victims were young men who were entering the Pizza House at the time, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said.

Unconfirmed reports said at least seven people were killed in the blast. Witnesses reported sporadic gunfire was heard in the area.

Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based extremist group that often targets popular area in Mogadishu, claimed responsibility and says their attack is ongoing.

“A mujahid (fighter) with his suicide car bomb martyred himself after he rammed into Posh Hotel, which is a nightclub. The operation goes one,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military spokesman, told Reuters.

The group has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government launched a new military offensive against it.

Abas Ahmed, who was at a nearby restaurant when the explosion happened, told i24News that he saw "the dead bodies of several people and others who were injured."

Wednesday’s explosion was the second suicide car bomb outside an eatery in Mogadishu in two months. In early May, 8 people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside Bar Italia. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility.

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.

The extremist group also faces a new military push from the United States after President Donald Trump approved expanded operations, including airstrikes, against al-Shabab. On Sunday, the U.S. military in Africa said it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.