Al-Shabaab besieges hotel in Somali capital

Al-Shabaab besieges hotel in Somali capital
Al-Shabaab besieges hotel in Somali capital

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Armed fighters stormed Mogadishu’s SYL hotel. — AFP videograb

MOGADISHU, March 15 — Sporadic explosions and gunfire rang out from a popular hotel in the Somali capital early today, an AFP correspondent said, many hours after Al-Shabaab fighters attacked the site near the presidential palace.

The assault late Thursday broke a relative lull in violence by the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group, demonstrating its continued ability to strike despite a major military offensive against the militants.

Armed fighters stormed Mogadishu’s SYL hotel — the target of several previous attacks — in a hail of bullets at around 9:45 pm (1845 GMT), with Al-Shabaab claiming responsibility in a brief statement.

“Several gunmen forced their way into the building after destroying the perimeter wall with a heavy explosion,” security officer Ahmed Dahir told AFP.

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Hours later, it was still not known if there were casualties and there has been no official government statement on the attack which occurred during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Witnesses described hearing the assailants shoot indiscriminately.

“I don’t know about the casualties but there were many people inside when the attack started,” said Hassan Nur who escaped by scaling a wall.

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Other witnesses said police officers arrived at the hotel within minutes of the attack, triggering a fierce gun battle.

Abdullahi Hassan, who was at a nearby house, said the officers arrived in multiple vehicles.

“Two ambulances carried wounded people,” he said.

‘Still active and resilient’

The same hotel has been hit by Al-Shabaab deadly attacks several times in the past, most recently in 2019.

The SYL is close to the main entrance of the Villa Somalia government complex, a high-security area that includes the presidential palace, the prime minister’s office and ministry buildings.

“It is a highly significant attack that shatters a sense of calm in Mogadishu that has developed in recent months following some security reforms,” said Omar Mahmood, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), noting that in the past Al-Shabaab assaults had increased during Ramadan.

“It also serves as a signal from Al-Shabaab that despite much heralded efforts by this government to weaken them, the group remains active and resilient, and even able to hit the government close to home.”

The jihadists have been waging war against the internationally backed federal government for more than 16 years and have often targeted hotels, which tend to host high-ranking Somali and foreign officials.

Although the militants were driven out of the capital by an African Union force, they retain a strong presence in rural Somalia and have carried out numerous attacks against political, security and civilian targets, including in Mogadishu.

The beleaguered central government launched a major offensive against the Islamists in August 2022, joining forces with local clan militias.

The army and militias known as “macawisley” have retaken swathes of territory in the centre of the country in an operation backed by an African Union mission known as ATMIS and US air strikes.

But the offensive has suffered setbacks despite early gains, with Al-Shabaab claiming earlier this week that it had taken control of multiple locations in the centre of the country.

- ‘Unwavering resolve’ -

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Thursday met defence officials in a “strategic meeting” to establish a plan to reclaim the lost territory, Somalia national news agency SONNA reported.

“The president commended the valiant efforts of Somali forces and emphasised the government’s unwavering resolve to eradicate terrorism,” SONNA said.

In January, the militants took a number of people hostage after a UN helicopter carrying nine passengers made an emergency landing in their territory.

In June last year, six civilians were killed in a six-hour siege at a beachside hotel in Mogadishu.

And In August 2022, 21 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a 30-hour siege on the Hayat Hotel in the capital.

In October 2022, 100 people lost their lives and 300 were wounded in twin car bombings in Mogadishu, the deadliest strike since Mohamud took office in May of that year.

Thursday’s attack comes days after the US Treasury slapped sanctions on 16 individuals and entities across the Horn of Africa and the Middle East it accused of laundering money for the militant group. — AFP

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