Three killed in al-Shabaab siege at Mogadishu hotel: Police

Three people were killed in an hours-long siege by al-Shabaab extremists at a popular hotel near the presidential palace in the Somali capital Mogadishu, police said Friday.

Security forces also killed five assailants in a gun battle, Somali police spokesman Colonel Qasim Ahmed Roble told reporters.

Armed fighters stormed the SYL hotel in a hail of bullets late on Thursday before security forces announced they had brought the situation under control after more than 13 hours.

It broke a relative lull in violence by the al-Qaeda-linked group, demonstrating its continued ability to strike despite a major military offensive against the militants.

“Three people died in the attack and 27 others including 18 civilians and nine soldiers were wounded,” Roble told a press conference, adding that the injury toll included three lawmakers.

“The situation at the hotel is back to normal now,” he said.

The attack on the SYL hotel — which has been targeted several times in the past — occurred early in the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and was claimed by al-Shabaab.

Escaped by scaling a wall

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

Witnesses described hearing the assailants shoot indiscriminately.

“There were many people inside when the attack started,” said Hassan Nur, who escaped by scaling a wall.

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

The United States said it condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.”

“The United States has a shared interest with Somalia to advance peace and prosperity, and we remain committed to supporting Somali efforts to defeat al-Shabaab,” the US embassy in Mogadishu said in a statement.

The government has not commented publicly but images on state television showed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visiting the injured in hospital.

‘Active and resilient’

The SYL hotel was last hit by al-Shabaab in 2019 when five people were killed.

It is close to 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, 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 extremists have been waging war against the federal government for more than 16 years and have often targeted hotels, which host high-ranking Somali and foreign officials.

Although al-Shabaab was driven out of the capital by an African Union force in 2011, it retains a strong presence in rural Somalia and has carried out numerous attacks against political, security and civilian targets.

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

The army and militias known as “macawisley” have retaken swathes of territory in central Somalia in an operation backed by the AU mission known as ATMIS and US air strikes.

But the offensive has suffered setbacks, with al-Shabaab earlier this week claiming it had taken multiple locations in the center of the country.

‘Unwavering resolve’

Mohamud met defense officials on Thursday to establish a plan to reclaim the lost territory, national news agency SONNA reported.

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

In January, al-Shabaab took several people hostage after a UN helicopter carrying nine passengers made an emergency landing in its territory.

In June, 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 at another hotel.

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

Thursday’s attack came days after the US slapped sanctions on 16 individuals and entities across the Horn of Africa and the Middle East that it accused of laundering money for al-Shabaab.

In November 2022, the US imposed sanctions against arms suppliers for ISIS-Somalia and al-Shabaab.

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