MOGADISHU (REUTERS) - An Islamist attack on a hotel in Mogadishu ended on Sunday (Oct 29) after 29 people were killed during a siege lasting nearly 12 hours, police said.
The attack proved once again that insurgents can carry out deadly assaults in the heart of the Somali capital. Twin bombings in Mogadishu two weeks ago killed more than 350 people, the worst such attacks in the country’s history.
The Islamist militant group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday. The group wants to overthrow the weak, UN-backed government and impose a strict form of Islamic law.
"So far I am sure 29 people died – the death toll may rise," police officer Abdullahi Nur told Reuters.
At least 12 of the dead were police officers, he said. And a woman, Madobe Nunow, was beheaded while her "three children were shot dead", he added.
A Reuters witness saw seven bodies lying inside the hotel.
Three militants were captured alive and two others blew themselves up after they were shot, police said. Some militants may have disguised themselves and escaped with the residents who were rescued from the hotel, another police officer, Major Mohamed Hussein, said.
The attack began around at 5pm on Saturday when a suicide car bomb was rammed into a hotel, Nasahablod Two, about 600m from the presidential palace, and then armed militants stormed the building, police said.
A few minutes later, a car bomb exploded near the former Parliament house nearby.
Ali Nur, a police officer, said during the firefight, "The exchange of gunfire is hellish."
The police personnel who died had been stationed close to hotel’s gate. The dead also included a former lawmaker, he said.
The explosion destroyed the front of the three-storey hotel and a next door hotel was also damaged. Many Somali officials live in fortified hotels because they offer better security from attack.
Bombs in Mogadishu two weeks ago killed at least 358 people, the worst such attacks in the country’s history, igniting nationwide outrage.
Another 56 people are still missing, believed to have been burnt without a trace. Al Shabaab was widely suspected, but has not claimed responsibility after thousands of Somalis poured onto the streets to protest.
Al Shabaab’s attacks are growing in frequency and size, as a 22,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force prepares to begin withdrawing.
In 2016, 723 people died in 395 bomb attacks in Somalia, according to a report produced earlier this year by Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research.