MOGADISHU: Two bombs ripped into a hotel in the centre of the Somali capital on Sunday morning and police fought Islamist al Shabaab gunmen who stormed inside the building, police and witnesses said. At least eight people were killed.

Al Shabaab , which has frequently launched attacks in Mogadishu in its bid to topple the Western-backed government, said it was behind the assault on the Sahafi hotel where government officials and lawmakers stay.

"Fighters entered and took over Sahafi hotel where enemies lived. The operation still goes on," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab 's military operations spokesman, told.

The incident mirrored tactics used before by al Shabaab , in which it detonates bombs to break through security at targets and then sends in fighters.

Major Ahmed Nur, a police officer, told Reuters that a car bomb rammed the entrance to the hotel and was followed by second blast, which a security guard said was a second vehicle bomb.

Nur said at least eight people were killed, including the hotel owner, guards and civilians, but said the toll could rise.

Police were still exchanging fire with attackers inside the hotel about two hours after the assault began.

"Fighters with machines guns are firing at us from the rooftop of the hotel," said Major Osman Ali, another police officer.

The hotel lies near a busy area in Mogadishu known as K-4. Plumes of smoke rose above the capital on the Indian Ocean coast.

"We get phone calls from staff hiding in hotel rooms saying that there are several injured people in the hotel," police officer Nur said. "Some government officials are inside the hotel. The death toll may rise."