Somali forces end al-Shabab siege at Mogadishu hotel: Report

Somali forces have ended a 30-hour siege of a hotel in the country’s capital, Mogadishu, according to military officials, with security forces clearing explosives planted by fighters in the building.

At least 21 people were killed, and dozens were wounded in the siege, which began when fighters from the al-Shabab armed group unleashed a gun and bomb attack on the popular Hayat Hotel on Friday evening.

“The Ministry of Health has so far confirmed the deaths of 21 people and 117 people wounded” in the assault that lasted more than a day, Health Minister Ali Haji Adan said on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, the area surrounding the hotel was quiet and the roads were blocked by a heavy security presence as emergency workers and bomb disposal experts sought to clear the premises of any explosives and remove rubble.

The hotel building sustained heavy damage during the gunfight between Somali forces and the fighters.

It caused some parts of it to collapse, leaving many people frantically searching for their loved ones who were inside when the attack began.

Police Commissioner Abdi Hassan Mohamed Hijar told reporters on Sunday “106 people, including children and women”, were rescued by security forces during the siege which ended around midnight.

As bullets and flames ripped through the hotel, security forces searched the property to bring civilians to safety, including three young children who hid inside a toilet.

“The casualties mostly happened in the early hours of the attack, after that security forces spent time rescuing people individually and room by room,” Hijar said.

A commander had earlier told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity that the attackers were all dead, and that the building still needed to be cleared of any explosives that may have been planted.

AFP said security forces had pounded the hotel with heavy weapons late on Saturday to eliminate the assailants who were holed up there for a second straight night.

Witnesses watching the drama unfold from the rooftop of another building told the news agency they saw flames tear through the hotel during the bombardment by security forces, with heavy explosions and gunfire reported.

Dozens of people were trapped in the hotel when the assault began. Although officials said dozens had been rescued, including children, it is not known how many were still inside when the siege ended.

One woman, Hayat Ali, said three young relatives aged between four and seven were found by security forces hiding in a hotel toilet in a state of shock but were later reunited with their family.

Another survivor told AFP he and some colleagues had performed evening prayers and were taking tea in one of the hotel’s open spaces when they heard the first explosions on Friday.

“I managed to run to a nearby exit gate away from the gunmen,” Hussein Ali said. “The gunmen started firing and I could hear the shots behind me, but thanks to God … we managed to escape.”

Hallmark of al-Shabab operations

The attack was the biggest in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May and comes as government forces have stepped up operations against al-Shabab.

The armed group linked to al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the siege, has been fighting to topple the Somali government for more than 10 years. It wants to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Omar Mahmood, senior analyst for Eastern Africa at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera the attack bore the “hallmark of al-Shabab’s operations” in Somalia.

“These hotels are usually attacked because that’s areas where government officials congregate. A lot of meetings, a lot of activities, especially right now, with the new government coming into place and setting up a lot of its appointments and its positions,” he said.

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