At least six people were killed on Saturday in a suspected suicide bombing by the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab on a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, police and eye-witnesses said.

"The attack began with a car bomb blast at the entrance of the hotel killing six people, among them five civilians and one hotel guard," said senior Somali police officer General Abdullahi Barise.

However, the death toll could be higher as fighting inside the hotel between Islamist attackers and private security guards was still ongoing in the afternoon, officials and witnesses said.

It was not immediately known how many people were inside the hotel.

The bomb exploded at 4:20 pm (1320 GMT) local time.

The heavily guarded Nasa-Hablood hotel is popular among government officials, foreigners and aid workers.

According to the police, the gunmen stormed the hotel and might have taken hostages.

"We have sent security forces to the area," said Abdikamil Moalin, a spokesman for the country's National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA).

Eye-witness Abdifitah Maxamud, who runs a small business near the hotel, said his shop was destroyed completely by the blast.

"I escaped with minor injuries on my head and legs ... But I saw several dead and wounded people lying around on the road," Mohamud said.

The hotel is located near the busy KM4 junction in Mogadishu. At the time of the explosion, residents were returning home from work to break the fast during the month of Ramadan.

The terror group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack on its Radio Andalus.

Earlier in June, the militant group killed 20 people during a siege on another Mogadishu hotel.

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