Police officers take up positions outside of the Mayor's office where an ongoing gun battle erupted following a reported explosion, in Mogadishu, on January 22, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Mogadishu: Somalia’s government says five civilians were killed when Al Qaida-linked extremists stormed a regional government office in the capital on Sunday.

The founder of the Aamin ambulance service, Abdulkadir Adan, told The Associated Press his team collected 16 wounded people from the scene.

The Al Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility for the assault on the Banadir Regional Administration headquarters in Mogadishu.

A staff member at the headquarters said the attack began with a suicide bombing before gunmen entered and exchanged fire with security guards. The staffer, Mustafa Abdulle, said most of the workers were rescued by security forces.

“Terrorists blasted a vehicle loaded with explosives onto a perimeter wall of the Mogadishu mall which is next to the Banadir administration headquarters,” police officer Abdullahi Mohamed said.

Witnesses said the explosion damaged nearby buildings and gunfire could still be heard near the mayor’s office.

“There is gunfire going on inside the vicinity of the main building but we don’t know what is happening inside,” a witness who runs a business near the offices said.

Another witness, Omar Nur, said he was inside the mall when the explosion went off and “was lucky to have escaped safely.”

A member of the Somali security forces runs to his position near the mayor's office following a blast in Mogadishu, Somalia January 22, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.

Militants have been waging a bloody insurgency against the frail internationally backed central government for 15 years, carrying out attacks both in Somalia and neighbouring countries.

The latest attack comes days after seven soldiers were killed on Friday by the Al Qaida-allied Al Shabab group in a military camp in Galcad, a town in central Somalia about 375 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu.

The US military said on Saturday the attack involved more than 100 Al Shabaab militants.

“The combined actions by partner forces on the ground and the collective self-defence strike is estimated to have resulted in three destroyed vehicles and approximately 30 Al Shabab terrorists killed” the US military command for Africa (AFRICOM) said in a statement.

In recent months, the Somali army and local clan militias have mounted a major offensive against the jihadist group, retaking swathes of territory in the centre of the country in an operation backed by US air strikes and an African Union force.

But despite the gains by the pro-government forces, the militants have continued to demonstrate the ability to strike back with lethal force against civilian and military targets.

On Tuesday, Al Shabab launched a deadly attack on a military base in another part of central Somalia, just a day after the government claimed a “historic victory” over the jihadists.

Although forced out of Mogadishu and other main urban centres more than a decade ago, Al Shabab remains entrenched in parts of rural central and southern Somalia.

In the deadliest Al Shabab attack since the offensive was launched last year, 121 people were killed in two car bomb explosions at the education ministry in Mogadishu in October.

The group has also been active recently across the border in eastern Kenya, which is a contributor to the African Union force in Somalia, carrying out several deadly small-scale attacks.

Eleven soldiers including a senior commander were killed Tuesday in an attack on an army camp north of Mogadishu.