At least four security guards were killed after members of the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab attacked a hotel in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia. The attack comes just hours ahead of the African nation's crucial presidential vote.

Two assailants were also shot and killed in the onslaught, a senior Somali security official told Reuters. The militants entered the hotel – frequented by foreigners – early on Wednesday (8 February) by taking down four guards outside the facility.

"Three al-Shabaab fighters stormed the International Village Hotel this morning. Four guards and two of the attackers died in the fighting. Fortunately, the attackers did not enter the rooms. The fighting took place inside the compound. A third fighter escaped and we are pursuing him. All the people in the hotel are safe," the governor of Bari region, Yusuf Mohamed was quoted as saying.

Usually southern parts of Somalia are targeted by militants who intend to uproot the government and displace the African Union forces to establish a Sharia-ruled state. Such assaults are rarer in northern parts of the country.

Although the government has launched staunch counter-terrorism measures against the al-Shabaab insurgency, militants manage to enter the region and mount fresh attacks.

The latest attack comes as 329 newly-elected parliamentarians are set to decide (on Wednesday) whether President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud should continue for a second term or his rivals would be freshly nominated. Security has also been beefed up especially in capital Mogadishu in the run-up to the vote.