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Nine killed and hostages held in attack at Somalia restaurant

Gunmen posing as military forces are holding dozens of hostages inside a popular restaurant in Somalia's capital, in an attack that began when a car bomb exploded at the gate.

The extremist group al Shabab claimed responsibility.

Police said at least nine people had been killed and several wounded. Most of the victims were young men who were entering the Pizza House in Mogadishu when the vehicle exploded, Captain Mohamed Hussein said.

A burst of gunfire was later heard inside the restaurant, Mr Hussein said.

The gunmen "were dressed in military uniforms. They forced those fleeing the site to go inside," witness Nur Yasin said.

The blast largely destroyed the restaurant's facade and sparked a fire. While al Shabab claimed to have attacked the neighbouring Posh Treats restaurant, which is frequented by the city's elite and was damaged in the blast, security officials said the Pizza House was targeted instead.

Security forces rescued Asian, Ethiopian, Kenyan and other workers at Posh Treats as the attack continued, Mr Hussein said.

The Somalia-based al Shabab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu, including hotels, military checkpoints and areas near the presidential palace. It has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government launched a new military offensive against it.

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 Centre for Strategic Studies.

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

Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed confirmed that air strike and said such attacks would disrupt the group's ability to conduct new attacks.

With a new federal government established, pressure is growing on Somalia's military to assume full responsibility for the country's security. The 22,000-strong African Union multinational force, AMISOM, which has been supporting the fragile central government, plans to start withdrawing in 2018 and leave by the end of 2020.

Also on Wednesday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the UN political mission in the Horn of Africa nation, which is trying to rebuild after more than two decades as a failed state, until March 31, 2018. The resolution recognised that "this is a critical moment for Somalia".

AP

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