Double blasts at Somali seaside restaurant

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Somali policemen hold their his position during a fire exchange with Islamist al Shabaab gunmen outside a hotel in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, November 1, 2015.

MOGADISHU – Two car bombs exploded at the entrance to a beachside restaurant in the Somali capital Mogadishu in the space of an hour on Thursday, police and witnesses said, with suspected Islamist fighters holed up inside.

"There was a car-bomb explosion at a restaurant at the Lido beach, there is shooting and gunfire," a police officer, Ahmed Bidan said.

RT news reported that people had been taken hostage.

The popular Lido beach is an area busy with restaurants, including upmarket establishments popular with business people and diaspora Somalis who have returned to the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the police said gunmen from the militant group al-Shabaab, which is aligned with al-Qaeda, had stormed the restaurant and set off the first car bomb at dusk.

"The second car bomb has just exploded and the fighters are still inside," Major Farah Abdulle, a police officer at the scene, told Reuters. "We cannot know the number of casualties inside."

Witnesses said the echo of the huge second explosion could be heard across the city centre, and that it had been followed by sporadic gunfire.There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Shabaab insurgents have carried out a string of similar bombings in the past.

Shabaab, which is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu, carries out regular attacks in the capital. The Islamists are on a mission to disprove claims they are close to defeat since being routed from Mogadishu in mid-2011 and losing several alleged commanders in US drone strikes.

Last week they stormed a Kenyan army base in south-west Somalia, in the latest incident of an AU mission in Somalia  base being overrun by the militants.

Kenya has so far declined to say how many of its soldiers are dead, injured or missing, but a Shabaab statement said that more than 100 Kenyan soldiers were killed and others captured.