Somalia\’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants carried out a car bomb attack followed by a major armed raid on a Mogadishu hotel Friday, causing many casualties among them government officials, police and witnesses said.
A huge explosion went off outside the Maka al Mukarama hotel, considered a high security facility and frequented by politicians, diplomats and businessmen, before an still unknown number of gunmen stormed inside in a hail of gunfire.
"There was an explosion outside and gunmen stormed the hotel. There is shooting inside. We don\’t know how many dead there are," police official Ahmed Abdi Fatah told AFP.
He added that some government officials were also believed to have been wounded in the attack, and that security forces had surrounded the hotel. The sound of gunfire and small explosions could be heard coming from inside, AFP reporters said.
The Shebab\’s spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, confirmed that the militants were behind the attack, claiming that gunmen inside were "in control of the area".
"The Mujahedeen fighters are conducting an operation targeting the heads of the apostates in Mogadishu. Our special forces have stormed a hotel where senior officials were meeting," he said.
"Our fighters are inside the hotel. Some people have been killed and others have been wounded but we don\’t have exact casuality figures," the spokesman added.
A police official had earlier said that at least one person had died in the initial car bombing that set off the complex attack — a trademark tactic of the hardline Islamists, who are fighting to overthrown the country\’s internationally-backed government and eject African Union forces supporting it.
The Shebab, meaning "youth" in Arabic, emerged out of bitter insurgency against Ethiopia, whose troops entered Somalia in a 2006 US-backed invasion to topple the Islamic Courts Union that was then controlling the capital Mogadishu.
Shebab rebels continue to stage frequent attacks, seeking to counter claims that they are close to defeat due to the loss of territory in the face of an AU and Somali government offensive, regular US drone strikes against their leaders and defections.
The group have also carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries — including the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi which left at least 67 dead.
Somalia has been unstable since the collapse of Siad Barre\’s hardline regime in 1991, and the country\’s new government is being supported by a 22,000-strong African Union force that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
SOURCE – AFP