Al-Shabaab attack on hotel in Somali capital ongoingFri, 15 Mar 2024 05:41:48 GMT

Sporadic explosions and gunfire rang out from a popular hotel in the Somali capital early Friday, an AFP correspondent said, many hours after Al-Shabaab fighters attacked the site near the presidential palace.The assault late Thursday broke a relative lull in attacks by the Al-Qaeda linked jihadist group, which claimed responsibility in a brief statement.Armed militants stormed the SYL hotel in Mogadishu at around 9:45 pm (1845 GMT) in a hail of bullets.”Several gunmen forced their way into the building after destroying the perimeter wall with a heavy explosion,” security officer Ahmed Dahir told AFP.Hours later, it was not still not known if there were casualties and there has been no official government statement on the attack.Witnesses described hearing the assailants shoot indiscriminately.”I don’t know about the casualties but there were many people inside when the attack started,” said Hassan Nur who escaped by scaling a wall.Other witnesses said police officers arrived at the hotel within minutes of the attack, triggering a fierce gun battle.Abdullahi Hassan, who was at a nearby house, said the officers arrived in multiple vehicles.”Two ambulances carried wounded people,” he said. Al-Shabaab jihadists have been waging an insurgency against the internationally backed federal government for more than 16 years and have often targeted hotels, which tend to host high-ranking Somali and foreign officials.- ‘Unwavering resolve’ -Although the militants were driven out of the capital by an African Union force, they retain a strong presence in rural Somalia and have carried out numerous attacks against political, security and civilian targets, including in Mogadishu.The beleaguered central government launched a major offensive against the Islamists in August 2022, joining forces with local clan militias. The army and militias known as “macawisley” have retaken swathes of territory in the centre of the country in an operation backed by the African Union mission ATMIS and US air strikes.But the offensive has suffered setbacks despite early gains, with Al-Shabaab claiming earlier this week that it had taken control of multiple locations in the centre of the country.Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Thursday met defence officials in a “strategic meeting” to plan on how to reclaim the lost territory, Somalia national news agency SONNA reported.”The president commended the valiant efforts of Somali forces and emphasised the government’s unwavering resolve to eradicate terrorism,” SONNA said.In January, the militants took a number of people hostage after a UN helicopter carrying nine passengers made an emergency landing in their territory.In October 2022, 100 people lost their lives and 300 were wounded in twin car bombings in Mogadishu, the deadliest attack since Mohamud took office in May of that year.In August 2022, 21 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a 30-hour siege on the Hayat Hotel in the Somalia capital.Thursday’s attack comes days after the US Treasury slapped sanctions on 16 individuals and entities across the Horn of Africa and the Middle East it accused of laundering money for the militant group.The targeted entities included Dubai-based fintech Haleel Commodities LLC with branches and subsidiaries in Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Cyprus.UAE-based Qemat Al Najah General Trading and a Kenyan bus company that supported Al-Shabaab’s logistics were also hit with sanctions.