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Eight dead as Somali forces fight al-Shabaab in a besieged hotel

#dead #Somali #forces #fight #alShabaab #besieged #hotel

At least eight civilians were killed in an attack by Islamist militants on a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu, an official said on Saturday, as security forces continued to fight gunmen hiding inside.

Fighters from the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab group stormed the popular Hayat Hotel on Friday night amid a hail of gunfire and bomb blasts.

Sporadic gunfire and loud explosions could still be heard early Saturday, many hours after the attack began.

It is the biggest attack in Mogadishu since Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia’s new president, was elected in May after many months of political instability.

The jihadist group, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for about 15 years, claimed responsibility for the incident.

“The security forces continued to neutralize terrorists trapped in a room of the hotel building; most people have been rescued, but at least eight civilians have been confirmed dead so far,” security commander Mohamed Abdikadir told AFP.

“Security forces safely rescued dozens of civilians, including children, trapped in the building,” he added.

Dozens of people have gathered in front of the hotel to learn the fate of their loved ones trapped in the hotel.

“We were looking for a relative of mine who was locked up in the hotel. She was confirmed dead along with six other people, two of whom I know,” witness Muudey Ali said.

Witnesses reported at least two large explosions as gunmen stormed the hotel, a popular spot frequented by government officials and ordinary Somalis.

Police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan told reporters late Friday that the initial blast was caused by a suicide bomber who attacked the hotel with several other gunmen.

Witnesses said a second blast occurred just minutes later, killing rescuers and security personnel, as well as civilians who rushed to the scene after the first blast.

– ‘Random Shooting’ –

The militants claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief statement on a pro-Shabaab website.

“A group of al-Shabaab militants forcibly entered the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu, the fighters are firing indiscriminately inside the hotel,” the group said.

Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 al-Shabaab militants in an airstrike in the south-central part of the country as Islamist militants attacked Somali forces.

The US has carried out several airstrikes on the militants in recent weeks.

In May, President Joe Biden ordered the re-establishment of a US troop presence in Somalia to help local authorities fight al-Shabaab, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw most US forces.

In recent weeks, al-Shabaab fighters have also launched attacks on the Somalia-Ethiopia border, raising concerns about a possible new strategy by the jihadists.

Somalia’s new President Mohamud said last month that ending al-Shabaab’s insurgency would require more than a military approach, but that his government would only negotiate with the group when the time was right.

Al-Shabaab militants were driven out of the capital by an African Union force in 2011, but the group still controls swaths of land.

It continues to conduct deadly attacks on civilian and military targets, frequently hitting popular hotels and restaurants.

Earlier this month, new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced the appointment of former deputy leader and group spokesman Muktar Robow as Minister of Religion.

Robow, 53, publicly resigned from al-Shabaab in August 2017, with the US government once offering a $5 million bounty for his capture.

The Horn of Africa nation has descended into chaos since President Siad Barre’s military regime was overthrown in 1991.

His fall was followed by civil war and the rise of al-Shabaab.

The deadliest attack in Somalia occurred in October 2017 when a truck loaded with explosives blew up in a busy commercial district of Mogadishu, killing 512 people.

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