By Spy Uganda Correspondent
At least 10 people were reported dead after gunmen stormed a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, following two car bomb blasts and gunfire, officials and local media have said.
Gunmen stormed the Hayat Hotel, which is known to be frequented by government officials, on Friday evening in a hail of gunfire and bomb blasts.
The al-Shabab armed group claimed responsibility for the attack – the first since the election of Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in May.
The attack comes as government forces have stepped up operations against al-Shabab, and as Somalia’s President Mohamud has promised to eliminate the armed group, Mohamed said. The al-Shabab leadership has also promised to topple Mohamud’s government, he added.
Security official Mohamed Abdikadir told the press on Saturday that dozens of civilians, including children, who were trapped in the building had been rescued.
“The security forces continued to neutralise terrorists who have been cordoned inside a room in the hotel building, most of the people were rescued but at least eight civilians were confirmed dead so far,” he said.
There was no immediate information on the identities of the victims.
A police officer, who only gave his name as Ahmed, said that in the initial attack two car bombs had exploded – one at a barrier near the hotel and the other at the building’s gate. The assault triggered a fierce gunfight between security forces and the gunmen as they holed themselves up inside the building.
Dozens of people have been gathering outside the hotel to discover the fate of loved ones caught up inside.
“We have been looking for a relative of mine who was trapped inside the hotel, she was confirmed dead together with six other people, two of them I know,” witness Muudey Ali told the press.
Al-Shabab has been fighting to topple the Somali government for more than 10 years. It wants to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Police officers were conducting an operation aimed at stopping the attack, the state-run Somali National News Agency said on its Twitter account, citing a police spokesperson. The agency posted a picture showing smoke billowing from above the scene.
Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 al-Shabab fighters in an air raid in the central-southern part of the country as the group was attacking Somali forces.
The US has carried out several air raids on the group’s fighters in recent weeks.
Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the past. In August 2020, the group said it was behind a raid on another hotel in Mogadishu, in which at least 16 people were killed.
Al-Shabab fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but the armed group still controls vast swaths of countryside.