LATEST: The death toll in Somalia rises to 18, clashes with militants

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The death toll from a car bomb blast and clashes between security forces and armed men near a hotel in the Somali capital has risen to 18, police said Friday. An Islamist extremist group claimed that a Mogadishu hotel was the intended destination, but one police officer said militants detonated a bomb when they attempted to assassinate a judge.

The car bomb went down near Abshir Omar's residence, and security forces stationed in front of the judge's home fended off armed men trying to crowd in, police officer Capt. Mohamed Hussein.

At least 40 more were injured in the attack, Hussein said. He said the death toll could rise as many of those injured are still treated in hospitals.

Shortly after the detonation, at least four armed men on foot opened fire on nearby buildings and businesses, causing clashes with nearby security guards and hotel guards, he said.

Two witnesses said the explosion had demolished part of the roof of Omar's house. The witnesses, shopkeeper Ahmed Mohamed and local Fatima Nur, said they heard gunfire after the blast and said the smoke was blowing from the point of attack.

Al-Shabab, considered the deadliest Islamist extremist group in Africa, took responsibility for the attack. The Al Qaeda-affiliated group said the Maka Almukarramah Hotel, not the judge's house nearby, was the intended target.

The security forces were still fighting to neutralize some of the fighters who had settled in a building near the hotel.

Hospitals struggling to cope

Another witness, Sabir Abdi, said that the hotel suffered significant damage and several people were injured in the house.

Dozens of cars stood in Maka Almukarramah Road, which is located in a busy part of Mogadishu where restaurants and hotels are located.

Al-Shabab has targeted the Maka Almukarramah Hotel several times in the past, including an attack in March 2015 that killed at least 18 people. The hotel is often recommended by government officials.

Many of the victims of Thursday's attack had suffered terrible injuries and it was said that local hospitals had difficulty coping with causality.

Some of the wounded lost limbs, said Sadiya Yusuf, a nurse in Daru Shifa, one of the hospitals that treat victims.

The militant group, which opposes the government of Somalia and seeks to enforce Sharia law, has made numerous deadly attacks in Somalia and elsewhere in the region, including neighboring Kenya.

It was behind the deadliest attack in Somalia's history, a massive truck bomb that killed more than 500 people in Mogadishu in October 2017. Al-Shabab said it was responsible for an attack on a hotel and shopping mall in the neighboring capital of Nairobi in Kenya in January that killed 21 people.

The US has dramatically increased air strikes against the extremist group since President Donald Trump took office. The US military command for the African continent reported that it had carried out 50 strikes in Somalia in 2018.

This year, US strikes against Al-Shabab fighters have reached an even faster pace. The military command in Africa reported on Tuesday 23, including one in central Somalia, where 20 militants and another killed 35 the day before.

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