Mogadishu hotel attack: battle rages, death toll nears 30

Published: March 01, 2019 17:45:04 | Updated: March 04, 2019 13:15:18

Heavy gunfire rang out across central Mogadishu on Friday as Somali special forces battled to dislodge insurgents holed up next to a hotel they bombed the previous evening, and as the death toll stemming from that attack neared 30.

Islamist al Shabaab fighters set off a bomb outside the Hotel Maka Al-Mukarama on Thursday night before retreating to an adjacent building, from where they fired on soldiers who tried to enter.

Another bomb exploded later about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) away, reports Reuters.

Rescuers said the number of dead from the first explosion, which destroyed several buildings, could well rise.

The attack, on a hotel popular with government officials, is part of a pattern of Al Shabaab assaults on high-profile targets in East Africa.

It comes days after US forces in Somalia stepped up air strikes against the group, which is fighting to dislodge a Western-backed government protected by peacekeepers.

“The militants are still fighting from inside a civilian house adjacent to the hotel,” police officer Major Musa Ali told Reuters on Friday morning. “... (They) are fighting back with grenades and Kalashnikov (rifles).”

He said 29 people, mostly civilians, had died in the attack and its aftermath, and 80 had been wounded.

Authorities deployed a contingent of US-trained Somali troops known as the Alpha Group to try to flush out the militants on Friday, just after two wounded soldiers were carried away from the hotel.

The hotel attack, unusually for Somalia, began at night, and rescuers had no lights or equipment to help dig the wounded out from the rubble, said Abdikadir Adem, the director of the privately-run Aamin ambulance service.

“The scene is fearful ... in magnitude it is similar to the October 14 bombing,” he said, referring to a truck bomb that killed more than 500 people in the city in 2017.

“The death toll may rise and rise.”

Somalia has been convulsed by lawlessness and violence since 1991, and a further layer of chaos was added in 2015 with the formation in the north of a splinter group of former al Shaabab insurgents who pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

At least 25 people have been killed this week in clashes between the two militant groups, said a military official from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland told Reuters.

Al Shabaab has also carried out attacks in neighbouring countries contributing to the African Union peacekeeper force inside Somalia, including one on a hotel and office complex in Kenya in January that killed 21 people.

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