A car bomb explosion followed by gunfire on Friday at a hotel in Somalia’s port city of Kismayo, where local elders and lawmakers were meeting to discuss an upcoming regional election, police said. A Somali-Canadian journalist was among those killed. 

Authorities on Friday said a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the popular Medina hotel in the port city of Kismayo, which was followed by a gunfight.

Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for car bombing. 

The independent radio station with journalists based in Mogadishu said Hodan Naaleye and her husband Farid, who once resided in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, were also killed in the attack. Global Affairs Canada has yet to confirm Naayele’s death.

One police officer said the gunfire was on for about an hour and a half after the explosion at the Hotel Asasey. Residents said the attackers were still in the hotel at 8:00 p.m. local time. “We believe the militants are still in the building. We have not confirmed the death toll, but there were many people inside, and there may be a high death toll,” police captain Abdullahi Isak told Reuters by phone. 

Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al-Shabaab’s military operation spokesperson, said the militant group was behind the attack and that fighting was still going on. “First we targeted the hotel with a suicide car bomb and then armed mujahedeen stormed the hotel. We are still fighting inside the hotel,” he said. “There are many dead bodies inside the hotel, including a dead white man. We control the hotel now.”

Hussein Nur, a shopkeeper in Kismayo, told Reuters: “There were many people including officials and elders, who were discussing the upcoming Kismayo election.” Nur was referring to elections in the city due sometime in August.

Somali Journalists Syndicate said in a statement that two journalists based in Kismayo had been confirmed dead in the attack.

“Mohamed Omar Sahal, SBC TV correspondent based in Kismayo, and Hodan Naayele, female TV journalist and founder of Integration TV, both are among those who are killed,” Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the syndicate’s secretary general, said. 

Al-Shabaab was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds.

It was driven out of Kismayo in 2012. The city’s port had been a major source of revenue for the group from taxes, charcoal exports and levies on arms and other illegal imports.

Outside of Kismayo, al-Shabaab still controls parts of Jubbaland, a region in southern Somalia.

It remains a major security threat, with fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force that helps defend the Somali government.