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Shabab Militants Lay Siege to Hotel in Somali Capital

WorldAfricaShabab Militants Lay Siege to Hotel in Somali Capital

Five assailants with the terrorist group Al Shabab stormed a hotel in a highly fortified area close to Somalia’s presidential palace on Thursday night, engaging security forces for about 12 hours in sustained fighting that left three people dead and injured 27 — including members of parliament — before the militants were finally killed, according to Somali officials.

The attack underscored Al Shabab’s enduring capacity to stage attacks on a high-profile target in the capital, despite an aggressive counteroffensive by the Somali government, backed by the U.S. military.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud promised to eliminate the group by fighting it militarily, ideologically and financially, when he came to power in mid-2022.

The militants with Al Shabab, a Qaeda-linked group, stormed the SYL Hotel in central Mogadishu after 9:30 p.m. local time, a police spokesman, Kasim Ahmed Roble, said Friday. Video footage broadcast on local television showed mangled cars and widespread destruction near the hotel’s entrance, while debris and blood covered the hotel’s floors inside.

“It is a disappointment for the Somali people that an explosion happened in the safest place in Somalia, which is so close to the presidential palace,” Osman Mohamed, a 25-year-old shopkeeper in Mogadishu, said on Friday. “This is a tough reality, and we are hoping President Hassan Sheikh will fix it.”

The Shabab have been staging attacks in Somalia for more than 15 years, fighting to topple the Western-backed government and establish a state in line with their own interpretation of Islam. African Union peacekeeping forces, which helped to deter Al Shabab for years, are due to pull out by December.

Al Shabab has attacked the SYL Hotel multiple times over the years, killing dozens of people, according to officials.

The hotel, located in a highly guarded area, is frequented by lawmakers, businesspeople and clan elders. Officers at multiple security checkpoints regularly inspect documents and vehicles and even request identification cards from passers-by.

Mr. Roble did not immediately explain how the Shabab militants passed through those security barriers to reach the hotel.

“We are still investigating how things transpired,” he said.

Three soldiers were killed in the attack, Mr. Roble said in a news conference. The 27 people injured included three lawmakers, nine police officers and 15 civilians, he said.

Mr. Mohamud’s administration has been able to score some gains against the group, kicking them out of villages and towns in central Somalia and targeting their economic networks, according to officials and experts.

The government also tightened security in the capital in recent months, limiting the group’s ability to carry out massive attacks like the one in late 2022 that killed more than 100 people, many of them students.

However, while the first phase of the offensive was successful, Somali and American officials say that rains, floods and other logistical challenges have delayed the second stage of the counteroffensive.

In a sign of the group’s resilience, the Shabab and Somali forces have engaged in fierce fighting in recent weeks in central Somalia, and the Somali police said this month that they conducted an operation that seized 140 mortars belonging to the group in the capital, Mogadishu. The group also seized a United Nations helicopter in January and took six passengers hostage, among them four Ukrainians, according to officials.

This week, the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on 16 people and companies in Kenya, Somalia, Cyprus, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates, which it said helped to launder the group’s $100 million annual revenue.

Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.

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