Almost two dozen people have been killed in a 30-hour attack by Islamist militants al-Shabaab on a hotel in central Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
Health Minister Ali Haji Adan said Sunday 21 people died and another 117 were injured in the attack. He told national broadcaster SNTV the death toll could be higher.
The attackers stormed the Hayat Hotel, a popular spot for local politicians, with detonating bombs on Friday night before opening fire in the first major attack by the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group since a new president took office this year. Somali troops entered the hotel on Sunday and freed 106 people.
Al-Shabaab, which has long terrorized the country and wants to overthrow the government, has claimed responsibility, according to the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors statements by jihadist groups.
This is the first major attack by al-Shabaab since former leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud returned to office in early June.
Harun Maruf, author of Inside al-Shabaab, said Saturday morning from Mogadishu that “government security forces are fighting hard to end the siege in a tough fight.”
Unconfirmed videos posted on social media showed an explosion blasting one side of the hotel roof and black smoke billowing from the construction site. Images from SNTV on Sunday showed Somali troops walking on piles of rubble at the hotel.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Sunday Washington “strongly condemned” the attack.
In addition to frequent deadly attacks in Somalia, al-Shabaab carried out the 2019 attack on the Dusit complex in Nairobi, killing 22 civilians. The group attacked a US base in northern Kenya in 2020, killing three US soldiers.
US Africa Command estimates the group has between 5,000 and 10,000 fighters across the country of 15 million and controls large parts of southern and central Somalia.
In May, US President Joe Biden authorized the establishment of a small but “permanent” military presence in Somalia, reversing the Trump administration’s troop withdrawal from the Horn of Africa country.
While the African Union mission in Somalia is being dismantled, Biden’s decision was based on growing concerns about the threat posed by al-Shabaab, which a senior US official has described as “al-Qaeda’s largest global subsidiary”.
A US airstrike on Aug. 14 killed 13 al-Shabaab militants “who were actively attacking Somali National Army forces in a remote location near Teedaan” in central Somalia, the US Africa Command said in a statement.