Al-Shabaab attacks hotel in Somali capitalThu, 14 Mar 2024 22:14:40 GMT

Islamist militants from the Al-Shabaab group on Thursday attacked a popular hotel near the presidential palace in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, security sources and witnesses said.The assault, for which Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, began at around 9:45 pm (1845 GMT) when gunmen stormed the SYL hotel 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.It was not immediately clear if there were casualties.Witnesses described hearing the attackers 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. The Al-Qaeda-linked 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.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.- ‘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 regularly carry out attacks against political 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 in recent months 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.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.