MOGADISHU : At least four people including a government official were killed Friday in an Islamist militant car bomb attack outside a top hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, officials said.

Police and security forces immediately sealed off the area after the huge blast outside the Maka al Mukarama hotel, popular with officials and businessmen. A police officer earlier put the toll at 11 dead.

A Somali government official said the evening attack bore all the hallmarks of the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab.

“Four people were killed and 15 others injured,” said government spokesman Ridwan Haji Abdiwali. A police official at the scene said there were 11 dead, while a doctor at Mogadishu’s Madina Hospital said 22 people had been admitted for treatment. “Three of the injured people died at the emergency room and 19 people had injuries,” Mohamed Yusuf said.

It was not clear if these three dead were included in the government’s toll.

The Somali president’s spokesman said one of the country’s top diplomats — Abdulkadir Ali Dhuub, a former acting ambassador to London — was among the dead.

The government’s spokesman also said a man caught wearing a suicide bomb vest was arrested after the blast.

“Investigations are under way as the arrested man is being interrogated,” Abdiwali said.

Mogadishu is frequently targetted with suicide and car bombings carried out by the Shebab, which has been pushed out of Mogadishu but still controls large parts of the rural south.

The powerful blast, which was heard across the city, occurred at the gates of the hotel, one of the most expensive in Mogadishu and run by Somalis from the diaspora.

The hotel has a restaurant and a coffee shop known to be popular with the local elite, notably government officials and businessmen.

Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon blamed “enemies of peace” for the attack.

“I condemn this attack in the strongest terms and send my condolences to the families and friends of all the innocent victims who were killed and wounded. Once again the enemies of peace show their true colours to the world,” he said in a statement.

“These cowardly acts of terrorism will not derail the progress made in Mogadishu and across Somalia. These terrorists will not defeat us but make us stronger.”

A Somali government official, who asked not to be named, told AFP that the attack “certainly looks like the work of Shebab.”

He said he understood that between four and 12 people had died, among them “several policemen or security guards”.

Police official Anshur Nur said he could see “several burning cars, dead and injured people on the ground” in the wake of the attack.

“There were lots of cars parked outside and some government officials were inside when the blast went off,” said another eyewitness, Abdirahman Ali.

The attack comes as the African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) is asking the UN Security Council to green-light a boost in its numbers by over a quarter to 22,000 as part of efforts to step up offensive operations against the Shebab.

The militants have frequently struck the heart of Mogadishu, including the area around the hotel, and in September claimed responsibility for a massacre at an upmarket shopping centre in the Kenyan capital Nairobi that left at least 67 dead.

Shebab said it carried out the attack on the Westgate mall in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.

Friday’s attack comes after a US army drone strike on a Shebab convoy that officials said killed the rebels’ top suicide bomb-maker.

In early October US Navy SEALS also struck the Shebab-held southern port of Barawe, but failed to kill or capture the top militant being targetted.