MOGADISHU: At least 14 people died and several others were wounded Thursday when a car packed with explosives blew up in front of a popular Mogadishu hotel, a government spokesman and witnesses said.
"There was a heavy blast here and the number of casualties we have is so far 14 killed and a number of others wounded," said Abdiazis Ali Ibrahim, a spokesman for the security ministry.
"The toll could be higher," he added.
Witnesses said the explosion was caused by a car bomb on one of the capital's busiest streets that was packed with people heading home from work.
"The blast was so huge, a vehicle containing explosives went off near a teashop in front of Weheliye hotel, leaving more than 10 people dead. I saw people being rushed to hospital and some of them were already dead," said witness Abdulahi Moalim.
"Most of the casualties are... people who were spending time to take tea, there was devastation and buildings were damaged," said another witness Mohamednur Abdirahman.
Mogadishu is regularly hit by bomb attacks carried out by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab which is fighting to overthrow Somalia's internationally-backed government.
In October it carried out its deadliest-ever bombing, killing over 500 people.
In the wake of that attack, Somalia's government declared a fresh offensive against the group and US drone strikes have increased in frequency.
While the Shabaab was pushed out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force it still controls large parts of the countryside and launches regular attacks on government, military and civilian targets.
East African leaders contributing to the AMISOM force last month called for the United Nations to reconsider plans to withdraw troops by December 2020, saying the timeline was unrealistic and could lead to a reversal of gains.
In February twin car bombs left 38 people dead in Mogadishu.