A suicide bombing attack on a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia on Thursday evening quickly escalated into a massive gun battle between Somali security forces and jihadis loyal to al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda ally that is becoming increasingly active across the region.
30 fatalities and 80 injuries are the worst estimates so far in Mogadishu’s worst terrorist attack in years. Official estimates provided to the media on Friday morning counted about half as many dead and injured, but said the numbers were likely to rise, especially since the area around the hotel was packed with diners and shoppers when the unusual nighttime attack began.
The attack began with a pair of bombs detonated outside the Hotel Maka al-Mukarama, the largest hotel in Mogadishu. The death toll from these explosions was not been completely tallied up as of Friday morning. The bombs were powerful enough to collapse several buildings and set dozens of parked vehicles ablaze. Rescue workers compared the carnage to a 2017 truck bombing that killed over 500 people. News agencies reported hospitals overflowing with horrible injuries and police firing shots into the air to keep crowds away from the conflict zone.
The hotel advertises the security of its area as a selling point for guests, who include many government officials, making it an inviting high-profile target for the jihadis. Al-Shabaab has targeted the building before, but Thursday’s attack appears to be their bloodiest success.
“Al-Shabaab like attacking Maka al-Mukarama because it is the heart of Somalia,” political analyst Hassan Haile told the BBC.
Haile said the area around the hotel is among the most heavily guarded streets in the city but the terrorists have been able to stage repeated attacks by bribing police or threatening their families.
“There is negligence from the government,” he said. “The soldiers have no money and they don’t get encouragement which makes these kinds of attacks possible.”
Former Somali security official Abdisalam Guled told the BBC the attack was part of al-Shabaab’s retaliation for increased U.S. airstrikes. He said the terrorist gang is taking advantage of the mismanagement Haile described, exploiting low morale among security forces, and acting more aggressively as African Union troops are withdrawn from Somalia.
After the bombs went off, a squad of terrorist gunmen attacked, occupying a residential structure next to the hotel. The Somali government responded with its counter-insurgency “Alpha Group,” an elite rapid-response force trained by American special forces. The ensuing gun battle was still in progress after the sun rose on Friday morning.
“The government tried three times to enter the building but we repulsed them. We still control the hotel,” an al-Shabaab spokesman said on Friday.
Police officials said the militants are using grenades and Kalashnikov rifles to fight security troops. At least two soldiers have been seen leaving the area on stretchers.