A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the popular Medina hotel in the southern port town of Kismayo before several heavily armed gunmen forced their way inside, shooting as they went.

Al Shabab has been carrying out deadly attacks in Somalia for months.
Al Shabab has been carrying out deadly attacks in Somalia for months. (AP)

At least 26 people, including many foreigners, were killed and 56 wounded in a suicide bomb and gun attack claimed by Al Shabaab militants on a popular hotel in southern Somalia, a top regional official said Saturday.

"Twenty-six people were killed in the attack and fifty-six others wounded, among those killed are... foreign nationals three Kenyans, one Canadian, one British, two Americans, and three Tanzanians. There are also two wounded Chinese citizens," regional president Ahmed Mohamed Islam told a news conference.

A police official earlier said the security forces ended the overnight attack.

"The operation is over," police officer Major Mohamed Abdi told Reuters by telephone from Kismayu.

Members of the Al Qaeda linked group stormed the hotel after targeting it with a car bomb on Friday while local elders and lawmakers were meeting to discuss approaching regional elections. 

Witnesses said among those killed were a well-known social media activist, her husband and a local journalist.

"The blast rocked the popular Medina hotel formerly known as Cascasey which is located in downtown Kismayo," said security official Abdiweli Mohamed.

"Several gunmen entered and started shooting but the security forces responded quickly and engaged in a gunfight with the terrorists inside the building," he added.

"The blast was very big," said witness Hussein Muktar.

"There is chaos inside, I saw several dead bodies carried from the scene and people are fleeing from the nearby buildings," Muktar said.

"The relatives of local journalist Mohamed Sahal confirmed his death and I'm getting that social media activist Hodan Naleyeh and her husband also died in the blast," another witness, Ahmed Farhan, said.

The Somali journalists' union SJS confirmed the reporters' deaths. "It is a very sad day for Somalian journalists," the union's secretary-general Ahmed Mumin said in a statement.

Al Shabaab fighters have fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies