MOGADISHU (AFP) – At least 13 civilians have been killed and dozens wounded in a militant attack on a hotel in the Somali capital, officials said yesterday, as security forces battled gunmen barricaded inside many hours after the siege began.
Fighters from the al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab stormed the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu on Friday evening in a hail of gunfire and bomb blasts.
Scores of people were trapped inside but officials said many including children have since been rescued.
Sporadic gunfire and loud explosions could be heard into yesterday afternoon, but details remain difficult to verify in the chaos.
It is the biggest attack in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected in May after many months of political instability.
Al-Shabaab, which has been waging a deadly insurgency for 15 years against the fragile government in the Horn of Africa nation, claimed responsibility.
“We are getting information about five more victims confirmed dead and that makes 13 the overall number of civilians killed by the terrorists,” Security Commander Mohamed Abdikadir told AFP.
“The security forces rescued dozens of civilians including children who were trapped in the building.”
Police officer Ibrahim Duale confirmed that more than 10 people had been killed, but said updated information would be released once the siege had ended.
“The security forces will announce any moment that the siege is over, it took a long time because of the complexity of the rescue mission,” Duale told AFP.
The director of Mogadishu’s main trauma hospital, Mohamed Abdirahman Jama, said the facility was treating at least 40 people wounded in the hotel attack and a separate mortar strike on another area of the capital.
There has been no official comment from the government, although East Africa grouping IGAD and Turkey, which has a military base in Somalia, both issued strong condemnations.
In another incident, a volley of mortar shells hit the seafront neighbourhood of Hamar Jajab, District Commissioner Mucawiye Muddey told AFP. “Among those critically wounded are a newlywed bride and her groom and a family of three children, a mother and their father.”
There was no immediate claim for that attack.
Witnesses reported at least two powerful explosions on Friday as gunmen stormed the hotel, a popular spot for government officials in a bustling area on the airport road.
Police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan had told reporters on Friday the initial blast was caused by a suicide bomber who forced his way into the hotel with other gunmen.
Witnesses said a second blast occurred just a few minutes later, inflicting more casualties as rescuers, security forces and civilians rushed to the scene.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility in a brief statement on a pro-Shabaab website, saying its fighters were carrying out “random shooting” inside the hotel.
Its spokesman Abdiaziz Abu-Musab told the group’s Andalus radio yesterday its forces were still in control of the building and that they had “inflicted heavy casualties”.