A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of a Mogadishu hotel with militants entering inside, says a Somali policeman. Gunman are said to have been heard firing shots inside the hotel in the centre of the war-torn city and multiple deaths and injuries are expected to be announced.

At such an early stage the exact number of injured or killed people is unknown in the suspected Al-Shabaab attack on Saturday 25 June, The terrorist attack is said to have taken place at the Naso-Hablood1, just 4km from the city centre, which is described as a "luxury" hotel popular with locals and tourists.

The Somali government has been battling an armed insurgency from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab since 2006. They frequently carry out attacks in the capital, and elsewhere, in its bid to topple the Western-backed government.

"They started with a suicide bomb and then stormed in. Now they are inside and the heavy exchange of gunfire continues," Major Nur Farah told Reuters. The Sonna Somali news agency says that guards are inside fighting the attackers of the hotel.

Local police has said an unknown number of gunmen have taken hostages, according to Associated Press.

The attack comes in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In previous years, the terrorists have intensified attacks during the fasting month, picking busy targets causing mass casualties.

Police Capt Mohamed Hussein told the New York Times that he saw four bodies thought to be civilians lying outside the hotel. The attackers "took positions behind blast walls and sandbags; fighting is still ongoing," he said.

Yusuf Ali, an ambulance driver, told AP that he evacuated 11 people injured in the attack to hospitals. "Most of them were wounded in crossfire," he said.

Al-Shabaab's beginnings

Al-Shabaab, which means 'The Youth', is an off-shoot of the Islamic Courts Union – a rival administration to the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia.

Somalia has seen a rise an increase in terrorist attacks in the past few months. Earlier in June Somalian MP's were among 15 killed after al-Shabaab gunman stormed another hotel in the centre of the capital.

At least 50 people were injured by the attack which, similar to the 25 June attack, began with a suicide car bomb.

In May, British troops arrived in Somalia in an effort to nullify the expanding threat from the jihadists in the horn of Africa.

Somalia has been devastated by civil war since 1991 and the extremists even controlled Mogadishu and the southern region of Somalia from 2006 until 2011, when it was defeated by African Union peacekeepers. The militants immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

al-shabaab hotel attack 1
On 1 June al-Shabaab targeted the Hotel Ambassador on Maka Al Mukaram Road in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. REUTERS/Feisal Omar