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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Shabab attack on Somali hotel ends with 21 dead, officials say

Officials said that 117 others had been wounded in the 30-hour siege by Shabab militants at an upscale hotel in Somalia’s capital.

By Abdi Latif Dahir

A 30-hour siege by al-Shabab militants at an upscale hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has left 21 people dead and more than 100 wounded, government officials said.

It was a busy evening at the Hayat Hotel on Friday, with friends arriving to socialize, businesspeople dining together and families unwinding after a long week. But just after 7 p.m. local time, the militants barged in, seizing the premises, killing patrons and setting off a battle with security officers that finally ended Sunday morning.

When it was all over, 21 people had been killed and 117 others wounded, according to the Somali health minister, Ali Haji Adan. Fifteen of those wounded were in critical condition, Abshir Axmad, the state minister at the president’s office, said in an interview.

The attack was the first complex and sustained assault carried out by al-Shabab in the Somali capital since Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected president in May. It also joined a long list of deadly strikes on hotels, restaurants and public spaces in Mogadishu over the past 1 1/2 decades, in which hundreds of civilians lost their lives in a city trying to rebuild after a devastating civil war. The offensive also underscored how al-Shabab continue to pose a threat to the stability of Somalia even in the face of high-level defections and increasing airstrikes by the United States.

“It is a terrible and sad day for Somalia and the Somali people,” Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu, a Somali lawmaker, said in a phone interview, adding that 11 members of his clan were killed in the attack. “It is sad that these terrorists continue to shed people’s blood so easily.”

The United Nations along with countries including Kuwait and Turkey condemned the attack Saturday. Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, deplored the siege, too, saying in a statement that the United States would continue to support Somalia in its “efforts to counter terrorism and build a secure and prosperous future.”

On Sunday, security forces began clearing the area, but Axmad said the hotel was still laden with unexploded bombs from the militants. It was not immediately clear how many militants went into the hotel, and officials did not respond to questions about that.

Photos and video from the scene showed parts of the yellow structure’s roof completely damaged, along with bullet holes and soot covering collapsed balconies. While covering the events near the hotel Sunday, a police officer injured a Somali journalist, according to the Somali Journalists Syndicate, an independent journalists union. It was not immediately clear what led to the shooting, and police have not commented on the episode.

The assault in Mogadishu comes as Somalia faces a severe drought, escalating food prices and soaring hunger levels. More than 7 million people, about half the country’s population, are facing acute food insecurity, while 213,000 others are facing famine-like conditions, according to the World Food Program.

The assault underscored how al-Shabab have continued to gain strength in recent years, carrying out daring operations in Kenya and Ethiopia, enlisting recruits through sleek videos posted on social media and extending their grip on villages and towns across large areas of south-central Somalia. Experts say the group particularly gained strength in the past five years, when the former government was roiled by political turmoil and former President Donald Trump pulled out hundreds of troops — a move President Joe Biden largely reversed this year.

When he was elected in May, Mohamud vowed to defeat al-Shabab, writing in a piece in The Economist that he would fight the group financially and ideologically and would liberate “all remaining territories, no matter how small or remote, so that our people can live in peace.”

But Mohamud is quickly realizing, experts said, that handling one major attack, let alone defeating the group, is easier said than done.

“The sheer length of the siege of Hayat Hotel by al-Shabab is unprecedented in Somalia,” said Mohamed Husein Gaas, director of the Raad Peace Research Institute in Mogadishu. “The president will need to invest in security and revisit the Somali security architecture.”

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