At least eight civilians have been confirmed dead in an attack by Islamist terrorists on a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu, an official said on Saturday, as security forces continued to battle armed men locked inside.
Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab fighters stormed the popular Hayat hotel on Friday night amid a hail of gunfire and bomb explosions.
Sporadic gunfire and loud explosions could still be heard early Saturday, several hours after the assault began.
It is the biggest attack in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was elected in May after several months of political instability.
The jihadist group, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for around 15 years, has claimed responsibility.
“Security forces have continued to neutralize the terrorists who have been surrounded in a room in the hotel building; most people have been rescued but at least eight civilians have been confirmed dead so far,” he told AFP security commander Mohamed Abdikadir.
“Security forces rescued dozens of civilians, including children who were safely trapped in the building,” he added.
Dozens of people gathered outside the hotel to find out the fate of loved ones caught inside the hotel.
“We were looking for a relative of mine who was trapped inside the hotel. She was confirmed dead along with six other people, two of whom I know,” witness Muudey Ali said.
Witnesses reported at least two large explosions as the gunmen stormed the hotel, a popular spot frequented by government officials and ordinary Somalis.
Police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan told reporters on Friday night that the initial blast was caused by a suicide bomber who attacked the hotel along with several other gunmen.
Witnesses said a second explosion occurred minutes later, claiming casualties among rescuers and members of the security forces and civilians who rushed to the scene after the first explosion.
The terrorists claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief statement on a pro-Shabaab website.
“A group of Al-Shabaab attackers broke into Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu, the fighters fire randomly inside the hotel,” the group said.
Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabaab fighters in an airstrike in the south-central part of the country as Islamist militants attacked Somali forces.
The United States has carried out several airstrikes on the militants in recent weeks.
In May, President Joe Biden ordered the re-establishment of a US military presence in Somalia to help local authorities fight Al-Shabaab, reversing his predecessor Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw most US forces.
In recent weeks, al-Shabaab fighters have also launched attacks on the Somalia-Ethiopia border, raising concerns about a possible new strategy by the jihadists.
Somalia’s new president Mohamud said last month that ending the al-Shabaab insurgency required more than a military approach, but that his government would only negotiate with the group when the time was right.
Al-Shabaab fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but the group still controls swaths of the countryside.
It continues to launch deadly strikes on civilian and military targets, frequently hitting popular hotels and restaurants.
Earlier this month, new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced the appointment of the group’s former deputy leader and spokesman, Muktar Robow, as minister of religion.
Robow, 53, publicly defected from Al-Shabaab in August 2017, with the US government at one point offering a $5 million bounty for his capture.
The Horn of Africa nation has been in chaos since the fall of President Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991.
His ousting was followed by a civil war and the ascendancy of Al-Shabaab.
Somalia’s deadliest attack took place in October 2017 when a truck loaded with explosives exploded in a busy shopping district in Mogadishu, killing 512 people.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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