Gunmen storm hotel in Somali capital, leave 20 dead
Islamic militants stormed a hotel in Somalia’s capital, engaging in an hours-long exchange of gunfire with security forces that left at least 20 people dead, according to police and witnesses.
At least 40 people were wounded in the attack Friday night, and security forces rescued many others, including children, from the scene at Mogadishu’s popular Hayat Hotel, police said Saturday.
The attack started with explosions outside the hotel before the gunmen entered the building.
Somali forces were still trying to end the siege almost 24 hours after it started. Gunfire could be heard Saturday evening as security forces tried to contain the last gunmen, thought to be holed up on the hotel’s top floor.
The Islamic extremist group Shabab, which has ties with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest of its frequent attempts to strike places visited by government officials. The attack on the hotel is the first major terrorist incident in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new leader, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, took over in May.
Russian forces are defending against Ukrainian attacks in Crimea, and are stepping up their battle in eastern Ukraine while continuing to fire on areas in the country’s north and south.
In a Twitter post, the U.S. Embassy in Somalia said it “strongly condemns” the attack on the Hayat.
“We extend condolences to the families of loved ones killed, wish a full recovery to the injured, & pledge continued support for #Somalia to hold murderers accountable & build when others destroy,” it said.
There was no immediate word on the identities of the victims, but many are believed to be civilians.
Mohamed Abdirahman, director of Mogadishu’s Madina Hospital, said 40 people were admitted with wounds or injuries from the attack. Nine people were sent home after being treated; five others were in critical condition, he said.
“We were having tea near the hotel lobby when we heard the first blast, followed by gunfire. I immediately rushed toward hotel rooms on the ground floor, and I locked the door,” said witness Abdullahi Hussein. “The militants went straight upstairs and started shooting. I was inside the room until the security forces arrived and rescued me.”
He said that while on his way to safety, he saw “several bodies lying on the ground outside hotel reception.”
Shabab remains the most lethal Islamic extremist group in Africa. It has seized more territory in recent years, taking advantage of rifts among Somali security forces as well as
disagreements between the government seat in Mogadishu and regional states. It is the nation’s biggest threat to political stability.
Forced to withdraw from Mogadishu in 2011, Shabab is slowly making a comeback from the rural areas to which it retreated, defying the presence of African Union peacekeepers as well as U.S. drone strikes targeting its fighters.
The militants in early May attacked a military base for AU peacekeepers outside Mogadishu, killing many Burundian troops. The attack came just days before the presidential vote that returned Mohamud to power five years after he had been voted out.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for the L.A. Times biggest news, features and recommendations in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.