At least 17 people have died in an attack by Somalia’s al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab terrorists on a hotel in the capital Mogadishu, Somali security officials said Friday.
A car bomb explosion went off outside the Maka al Mukarama hotel, considered a high security facility and frequented by politicians, diplomats and businessmen, before around five heavily-armed gunmen stormed inside. Somalia’s ambassador to Switzerland was among the dead, officials said.
“All the attackers were killed and the situation is under control. The government’s special forces have managed to penetrate the building and are now in full control,” said Somali official Mohamed Hassan. He said at least nine bodies had been counted — mostly members of hotel security and civilian guests — but said security forces were still in the process of confirming the overall toll.
Another Somali government official said special forces had entered the city centr hotel and were in the process of securing it after three hours of fierce fighting.
“Most of the dead are security guards who fought the attackers,” a third official said.
The Shebab’s spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, confirmed that the group was behind the attack and said they had managed to quickly seize control of the hotel.
“The Mujahedeen fighters are conducting an operation targeting the heads of the apostates in Mogadishu,” he told AFP, adding that members of Somalia’s internationally-backed government were meeting inside at the time of the raid.
A car bombing followed by an armed raid has become a trademark tactic of the hardline Islamists, who are fighting to overthrown the Mogadishu government and eject African Union forces supporting it.
The Shebab, meaning “youth” in Arabic, emerged out of bitter insurgency against Ethiopia, whose troops entered Somalia in a 2006 US-backed invasion to topple the Islamic Courts Union that was then controlling the capital Mogadishu.
Shebab rebels continue to stage frequent attacks, seeking to counter claims that they are close to defeat due to the loss of territory in the face of an AU and Somali government offensive, regular US drone strikes against their leaders and defections.
The group have also carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries — including the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi which left at least 67 dead.
The Ugandan capital Kampala, where a twin bombing by the Shebab in 2010 killed 76 people, was also on high alert this week after the US embassy there warned of an imminent attack against Westerners. Ugandan troops make up the backbone of the AU’s AMISOM force in Somalia.
Britain on Friday also issued a fresh travel warning covering the Kenyan coast including the port city of Mombasa, where the Shebab have been actively recruiting disaffected Kenyan youth.
Somalia has been unstable since the collapse of Siad Barre’s hardline regime in 1991, and the country’s new government is being supported by a 22,000-strong African Union force that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
AP contributed to this report.