Feisal Omar / Reuters
A Somali girl and her brother run to safety near the scene of a blast in Mogadishu on Sunday.
At least 19 people were killed in Somalia’s capital Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda stormed the city’s main law courts, firing a barrage of bullets and setting off two explosions, according to reports.
The Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, which has ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mogadishu, according to Reuters.
A car bomb was detonated outside the Supreme Court around 12:30 p.m. as teams of gunmen raided the compound. Security forces soon arrived and exchanged heavy gunfire with the militants. A second bomb exploded on the road to the airport, killing four people, according to The Associated Press.
Witnesses at the scene told Reuters that in addition to the car bomb blasts, three of the militants who stormed the compound also blew themselves up using explosives strapped to their bodies.
"About seven well-armed men in government uniform entered the court today as soon as a car bomb exploded at the gate. We thought they were government soldiers," said Aden Sabdow, who works at the mayor's office adjacent to the court.
"Armed men entered the court and then we heard a blast. Then they started opening fire. We do not know the number of casualties," said Hussein Ali, who works at the courts.
Militants took an unknown number of hostages during the assault, the AP reported.
But roughly two hours after the assault began, survivors started streaming out of the compound.
"I never expected to make it out alive today,” Halima Geddi told the AP.
Al-Shabaab fighters – who virtually ruled Mogadishu from 2006 until 2011 – are blamed for the majority of militant attacks in the city, according to the AP.
"We carried out a superb intense mission in Mogadishu today. We killed 26 people including soldiers and court staff," said al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, according to Reuters. The number of dead he cited could not be verified.
Sunday’s violence is the worst seen since the al-Shabaab group was forced out of the city by the African Union and Somali forces in August 2011.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report