Somali authorities on Sunday put an end to an attack by Islamist extremists that left 21 dead and more than 110 injured when gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital. It took Somali forces more than 30 hours to contain the fighters who stormed Mogadishu’s Hayat Hotel on Friday night in an attack that began with loud explosions.
The attack is the first major terror attack in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took power in May.
The siege ended around midnight, Police Commissioner Abdi Hassan Hijar told reporters.
“During the attack, security forces rescued many civilians trapped in the hotel, including women and children,” he said.
Minister of Health Dr. Ali Haji Adam reported 21 dead and 117 injured, at least 15 of whom are in critical condition. He noted that some victims may not have been taken to hospitals and the death toll could rise.
The Islamist extremist group al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest of its frequent attempts to attack sites frequented by government officials.
Al-Shabab opposes the federal government and outside groups that support it. Al-Shabab remains the deadliest Islamist extremist group in Africa and the greatest threat to political stability in the unstable Horn of Africa.
Police have not yet provided a detailed explanation of how the attack unfolded and it remains unclear how many gunmen entered the hotel. A police officer told Reuters that two car bombs on the hotel’s front barrier and gate had been used to gain entry to the hotel Friday night.
Ismail Abdi, the hotel’s manager, told The Associated Press early Sunday that security forces were still busy clearing the area. The sound of gunshots ended at 9am. Spectators gathered outside the gates of the badly damaged hotel on Sunday morning to survey the scene.
Somalia’s previous president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, avoided any major confrontation with al-Shabab. But Mohamud has said his government will launch the offensive against the group’s thousands of fighters, with the support of returning US troops.
Al-Shabab, through its Andalusian radio station, accused the attack on the hotel in response to Mohamud’s claim that he would eliminate the group from Somalia.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack and said the UN is supporting the people of Somalia “in their fight against terrorism and their march towards peace”.
Mohamed Abdirahman, director of Madina Hospital in Mogadishu, told the Associated Press that 40 people were admitted there with injuries or injuries from the attack. While nine were sent home from treatment, five are in critical condition in the ICU, he said.
“We were drinking tea near the hotel lobby when we heard the first explosion, followed by gunfire. I immediately ran to the hotel rooms on the ground floor and locked the door,” witness Abdullahi Hussein said on the phone. “The militants immediately went upstairs and started firing. I was in the room until the security forces arrived and rescued me.”
He said on his way to safety, he saw “several bodies lying on the ground outside the hotel reception.”
Al-Shabab has taken further territory in recent years, taking advantage of rifts between Somali security personnel and disagreements between the Mogadishu government seat and regional states. It remains the greatest threat to political stability in the unstable Horn of Africa.
Forced to withdraw from Mogadishu in 2011, al-Shabab is slowly making a comeback from the rural areas from which it withdrew, defying the presence of African Union peacekeepers and US drone strikes on its fighters.
The militants attacked a military base for AU peacekeepers outside Mogadishu in early May, killing many Burundian troops. The attack came just days before the presidential election that brought Mohamud back to power five years after he was voted out.