MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – Somali authorities on Sunday ended 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.
The Islamist extremist group al-Shabab, associated with 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.
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”.
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.
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.