At least 14 people have been killed after a terror of gunmen invaded a hotel in Somalia’s capital and took an unknown number of hotel guests hostage, police and medical workers said on Saturday.
Security forces then hunted down the attackers and ended the assault, which began with an explosives-laden vehicle blowing up at the hotel gate and lasted for hours.
The Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the latest in a series of hotel attacks in Mogadishu.
“We have finally ended the siege. The last remaining militants were killed on the top floor,” police captain Mohamed Hussein said after security forces pursued the gunmen who had retreated to upper floors of the Nasa-Hablod hotel, setting up sniper posts on the roof and throwing grenades. Police said at least four gunmen were involved in the attack.
“We have so far confirmed the deaths of 14 people. Some of them died in the hospitals,” Hussein said. The deaths included women who were selling khat, a stimulant leaf popular with Somali men, outside the hotel, he said.
Hussein said the security forces had killed two of the attackers. Police and medical workers said another nine people were wounded in the assault.
Police said the attack began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the hotel entrance, ripping off its gate. Gunmen then fought their way inside.
A witness, Ali Mohamud, said the attackers shot randomly at guests. “They were shooting at everyone they could see. I escaped through the back door,” he said.
Yusuf Ali, an ambulance driver, said he had evacuated 11 people injured in the attack. “Most of them were wounded in crossfire,” he said.
Al-Shabaab, which is based in Somalia and linked to al-Qaida, has been waging a deadly insurgency across large parts of the country and often employs suicide car bomb attacks to penetrate heavily fortified targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.
In early June, at least 15 people were killed during an overnight siege at another hotel in the capital, including two members of parliament. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.
The latest attack comes during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, when extremists often step up their attacks.
“They came shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and fired bullets on every side,” said a member of the hotel staff who escaped through the back door. He declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.
The assaults in Mogadishu have highlighted the challenges facing the Somali government and African Union forces that are struggling to secure the country. An attack on another Mogadishu hotel and public garden in February killed at least nine civilians. A car bomb outside a restaurant in the capital in April killed at least five.
Al-Shabaab insurgents have been ousted from most of Somalia’s cities, but continue to carry out bombings and suicide attacks.
The African Union force faces shrinking resources after the European Union recently cut its funding to the AU mission in Somalia by 20%. Citing that cut, Uganda’s military chief said on Friday that his country planned to withdraw more than 6,000 troops from the AU force by December 2017.