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Two Blasts Heard Near Somalia’s Parliament; Gun Battle Under Way

Somali federal government forces and African union peacekeepers stack weapons as they patrol a street of Mogadishu on July 27, 2014, during a security operation. Thousands displaced by war live in basic makeshift shelters in Mogadishu, where Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab fighters continue to launch regular attacks, including brazen commando raids on the presidential palace and parliament. Over 350,000 people in Somalia's war-ravaged capital are in acute need of food aid as government and charities struggle to cope, the UN warned on July 26, with other cities also in crisis. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB (Photo credit should read Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images) Photographer: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP

Mogadishu, Somalia (AP) -- A least nine people were killed in an attack on Somalia's interior ministry and security forces continued to battle gunmen inside, police said Saturday, as the al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility.

Gunfire could be heard amid reports that a number of people, mostly government workers, were trapped in the ministry on what had been a normal business day.

More than 10 people were wounded and the death toll could rise, Col. Ahmed Mohamed said.

The attack began in the morning when a suicide car bomber detonated at the gate of the interior ministry, which is close to the presidential palace and the headquarters of parliament, police Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press.

Three gunmen were believed to be holed up inside the ministry, Hussein said as shooting could be heard in the background.

Ambulance sirens echoed across the area as soldiers opened fire to disperse bystanders and motorists.

The Somalia-based al-Shabab, an arm of al-Qaida, often targets high-profile areas of the capital. It was blamed for the October truck bombing that killed more than 500 people in the deadliest attack in the country's history.

The ongoing threat from what has become the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa has hurt efforts to strengthen Somalia's fragile government and stabilize the long-chaotic Horn of Africa nation.

The United States under the Trump administration has stepped up military efforts in Somalia, including dozens of drone strikes, against al-Shabab and a small presence of fighters linked to the Islamic State group. At least two U.S. military personnel have been killed.

The U.S. military and others in the international community have expressed concern about the plan for Somalia's security forces to take over the country's security from a multinational African Union force over the next few years, saying the local troops are not yet ready.

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