An attack by Islamist terrorists on a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu has killed at least eight civilians, an official said on Saturday, as security forces continued to fight gunmen holed up inside.
Fighters from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab group stormed the popular Hayat Hotel Friday night in a hail of gunfire and bombings.
Sporadic gunfire and loud explosions could still be heard early Saturday, many hours after the attack began.
It is the largest attack in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was elected in May after many months of political instability.
The jihadist group, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for some 15 years, claimed responsibility.
“Security forces continued to neutralize terrorists who were deposited in a room in the hotel building; most people were rescued, but at least eight civilians have been confirmed dead so far,” security chief Mohamed Abdikadir told AFP.
“The security forces rescued dozens of civilians, including children who were safely trapped in the building,” he added.
Dozens of people have gathered outside the hotel to discover the fate of loved ones at the hotel.
“We are looking for a relative of mine who was trapped in the hotel, she was confirmed dead along with six other people, two of whom I know,” said witness Muudey Ali.
Witnesses reported at least two major explosions when the gunmen stormed the hotel, a popular spot frequented by government officials and ordinary Somalis.
Police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan had told reporters late Friday that the first blast was caused by a suicide bomber who attacked the hotel with several other gunmen.
Witnesses said a second explosion occurred just minutes later, killing rescuers, members of the security forces and civilians who ran to the accident site after the first explosion.
The terrorists claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief statement posted on a pro-Shabaab website.
“A group of Al-Shabaab attackers has forcibly entered Hotel Hayat in Mogadishu, the fighters carry out indiscriminate shootings at the hotel,” the group said.
Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabaab fighters in an airstrike in the south-central part of the country when Islamist militants attacked Somali forces.
The US has carried out several airstrikes on the militants in recent weeks.
In May, President Joe Biden ordered the restoration of a US troop presence in Somalia to help local authorities fight al-Shabaab, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw most US troops.
In recent weeks, al-Shabaab fighters have also carried out attacks on the Somali-Ethiopia border, raising concerns about a possible new strategy by the jihadists.
Somalia’s new president, Mohamud, said last month that ending Al-Shabaab’s insurgency required more than a military approach, but that his government would only negotiate with the group when the time was right.
Al-Shabaab fighters were forced out of the capital by an African Union force in 2011, but the group still controls parts of the countryside.
It continues to carry out deadly attacks on civilian and military targets, regularly hitting popular hotels and restaurants.
Earlier this month, new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced the appointment of the group’s former deputy leader and spokesman, Muktar Robow, as minister of religion.
Robow, 53, publicly defected from Al-Shabaab in August 2017, with the US government at one point offering a $5 million bounty for his capture.
Since the fall of the military regime of President Siad Barre in 1991, the country in the Horn of Africa has been in chaos.
His ouster was followed by civil war and the ascendancy of Al-Shabaab.
The deadliest attack in Somalia took place in October 2017 when a truckload of explosives exploded in a bustling commercial district of Mogadishu, killing 512 people.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)