SOMALIA (KISMAYO)   -  Special forces in Somalia have ended an all-night siege at a hotel raided by armed Islamic militants, officials have said.

The death toll from the attack in the southern port city of Kismayo, which began on Friday evening, has risen to 26 people, including a prominent Canadian-Somali journalist and several foreigners. The victims include one Briton, three Kenyans, three Tanzanians, two Americans and one Canadian, said Ahmed Madobe Islam, the president of the Jubaland regional state that controls Kismayo. He told reporters that 56 people, including two Chinese, were injured.

At least four al-Shabaab militants attacked the Asasey hotel, which is popular with politicians, foreigners and lawmakers. A suicide car bomb demolished the entrance gate, allowing gunmen to storm the main building.

Troops fought for more than 12 hours before eventually killing all attackers inside the hotel compound, said Col Abdiqadir Nur, a police officer. Hotels are a favourite target of al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attack. Analysts said the operation had all the hallmarks of the group, which often uses suicide car bombs to blast through defences of heavily fortified targets. The group was also behind the massive truck bomb in Mogadishu in 2017 that killed more than 500 people. Despite its proximity to some major al-Shabaab strongholds, Kismayo has been relatively quiet in recent years. Hodan Nalayeh, a Canadian journalist, and her husband, Farid Jama Suleiman, died in the attack, confirmed the Mogadishu-based independent radio station Radio Dalsan.

Omar Suleiman, a Texas-based imam who knew the journalist, wrote on social media: “I’m absolutely devastated by the news of the death of our dear sister Hodan Nalayeh and her husband in a terrorist attack in Somalia today. What a loss to us. Her beautiful spirit shined through her work and the way she treated people.”

The BBC journalist Farhan Jimale tweeted: “I’m saddened by the death of my dear friend the Somali Canadian journalist, Hodan Nalayeh, who was among those killed in today’s attack in #Kismaayo. She was a bright star & a beautiful soul that represented the best of her people & homeland #Somalia at all times. RIP sister.”

Nalayeh was born in Somalia in 1976, but spent most of her life in Canada, first in Alberta and then Toronto. She founded Integration TV, an international web-based video production company aimed at Somali viewers around the world.

She was the first female Somali media owner.

Al-Shabaab, which is an official affiliate of al-Qaida, has been waging a war for more than a decade to overthrow Somalia’s western-backed central government and install its own rule based on its strict interpretation of sharia law.  In March, the group killed five people, including the deputy labour minister, in an attack on a government building in the capital, Mogadishu.

The US has ramped up its support for the government in Somalia, deploying hundreds of special forces soldiers, and frequently uses drones to attack the militants.

In March 2017, Donald Trump approved greater authority for military operations against al-Shabaab, allowing increased actions in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali forces. The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration. There were 47 in 2018 and have been 50 so far this year.

Earlier this year, a report by Amnesty International claimed attacks have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, and said the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.

Al-Shabaab operations have been disrupted by the strikes, though the group’s hold on swaths of territory in central and southern Somalia remains strong.