MOGADISHU • An attack by Somali militant group Al-Shabaab on a Mogadishu hotel has left at least 13 people dead, including a staff member of the Chinese Embassy that was housed in the building.
The six-storey Jazeera Palace Hotel was largely demolished by a blast on Sunday that left blood and pieces of flesh spattered around the site, according to witnesses.
China's Foreign Ministry said that the Chinese national who died worked in security at the embassy.
The Jazeera Palace Hotel is also home to the diplomatic missions of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and is popular among Somali government officials and foreign visitors.
The hotel has been the target of Al-Shabaab attacks in the past, including in 2012 when suicide bombers stormed the hotel while Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was inside.
President Mohamud condemned Sunday's bombing in a defiant response. "This was an attack on a symbol - the Jazeera hotel was a place where the international community met their counterparts in Somali politics, business and civil society," he said yesterday.
"But I have a message for the terrorists: The Jazeera Palace will be rebuilt and it will soon be back in business. That is how we respond to callous attacks such as this - attacks that, as is so often the case, harm only innocent Somali citizens and our international colleagues who are here to help."
Al-Shabaab said the suicide bomber had attacked the hotel "in retaliation for the killing of dozens of innocent civilians" the group claimed had died during attacks last week by Ethiopian forces against its bases in southern Somalia.
The Islamist group is fighting to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed government, which is propped up and protected by a 22,000-strong force from the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom). Somali government and Amisom troops last week launched a fresh offensive aimed at flushing the insurgents out of rural areas in southern Somalia, in an operation also involving Ethiopian and Kenyan forces.
The suicide vehicle attack, the latest in a string of bomb blasts and killings in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation, came as United States President Barack Obama left neighbouring Kenya and headed to Ethiopia, both key nations contributing troops to the African Union force battling Al-Shabaab, which is closely connected to Al-Qaeda.
The White House has strongly condemned Sunday's hotel attack as "abhorrent".
The US president, speaking in Nairobi last Saturday, said that while Al-Shabaab had been "weakened", the overall security threat posed by the group remained.
"We have been able to decrease their effective control within Somalia and have weakened those networks operating here in East Africa. That does not mean the problem is solved," said Mr Obama.
"We can degrade significantly the capacity of the terrorist organisations, but they can still do damage," he added.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE