Gunmen storm hotel in Somali capital, leaving 20 dead

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Islamist militants stormed a hotel in Somalia’s capital, engaging in an hour-long shootout with security forces that killed at least 20 people, police and witnesses said.

In addition, at least 40 people were injured in the attack late Friday night and security forces rescued many others, including children, from the crime scene at the popular Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu, they said on Saturday.

The attack started with explosions outside the hotel before the gunmen entered the building.

Somali forces were still trying to end the siege of the hotel nearly 24 hours after the attack began. Gunshots were still heard Saturday night as security forces tried to contain the last of the gunmen who were holed up on the top floor of the hotel.

The Islamist extremist group al-Shabab, associated with al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest of its frequent attempts to attack sites frequented by government officials. The attack on the hotel is the first major terror incident in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took over in May.

In a Twitter post, the US embassy in Somalia said it “strongly condemns” the attack on the Hayat.

“We extend our condolences to the families of loved ones who have died, wish the injured a full recovery, & pledge continued support for #Somalia to hold killers accountable & build when others destroy,” it said.

The identity of the victims was not immediately known, but many are believed to be civilians.

Mohamed Abdirahman, director of Madina Hospital in Mogadishu, told the AP that 40 people were admitted there with injuries or injuries from the attack. While nine were sent home from treatment, five are in critical condition in the ICU, he said.

“We were drinking tea near the hotel lobby when we heard the first explosion, followed by gunfire. I immediately ran to the hotel rooms on the ground floor and locked the door,” said witness Abdullahi Hussein on the phone. “The militants went straight up and started firing. I was in the room until the security forces arrived and rescued me.”

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He said on his way to safety, he saw “several bodies lying on the ground outside the hotel reception.”

Al-Shabab remains the deadliest Islamist extremist group in Africa.

The group has taken further territory in recent years, taking advantage of rifts between Somali security personnel and disagreements between the Mogadishu government seat and regional states. It remains the greatest threat to political stability in the unstable Horn of Africa.

Forced to withdraw from Mogadishu in 2011, al-Shabab is slowly making a comeback from the rural areas from which it withdrew, defying the presence of African Union peacekeepers and US drone strikes on its fighters.

The militants attacked a military base for AU peacekeepers outside Mogadishu in early May, killing many Burundian troops. The attack came just days before the presidential election that brought Mohamud back to power five years after he was voted out.

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