Hotel siege ends, attackers dead

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AFP) — Somalis anxiously waited to know the fate of their missing relatives on Sunday as emergency workers attempted to clear debris after a deadly 30-hour siege by Al-Shabaab jihadists at a hotel in the capital Mogadishu.

At least 13 civilians lost their lives and dozens were wounded in the gun and bomb attack by the Al-Qaeda-linked group that began on Friday evening and lasted over a day, leaving many feared trapped inside the popular Hayat Hotel.

On Sunday morning, the area surrounding the hotel was quiet and the roads blocked by a heavy security presence as emergency workers and bomb disposal experts sought to clear the premises of any explosives and remove rubble.

The attack was the biggest in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in June, and underscored the challenge of trying to crush the 15-year insurrection by the Islamist militant group.

The hotel was a favored meeting spot for government officials and scores of people were inside when gunmen stormed the property.

Officials said earlier that dozens of people had been rescued, including three young children who had hid inside a toilet, but it is not known how many were still in the hotel when the siege ended around midnight.

Dozens of people gathered near the road leading up to the hotel on Sunday morning, desperate for news of their family members as security forces guarded the area, not letting anyone through.

According to police, the attack began with a blast caused by a suicide bomber who forced his way into the hotel along with gunmen.

A second explosion occurred just minutes later, witnesses said, inflicting more casualties as rescuers, security forces and civilians rushed to help those injured.

Al-Shabaab spokesperson Abdiaziz Abu-Musab told the group’s Andalus radio earlier Saturday that its forces had “inflicted heavy casualties.”

In a statement by the group’s news agency cited by the SITE Intelligence monitoring group, the jihadists claimed to have held hostages during the siege, including government and security officials.

Al-Shabaab has carried out several attacks in Somalia since Mohamud took office, and last month launched strikes on the Ethiopian border.

The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still control swathes of countryside and retain the ability to launch deadly strikes, often targeting hotels and restaurants.

The deadliest attack occurred in October 2017 when a truck packed with explosives blew up in Mogadishu, killing 512 people.

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