MOGADISHU: The death toll from a devastating 30-hour siege by Al-Shabaab militants at a hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has climbed to 21, Health Minister Ali Haji Adan said on Sunday, as anxious citizens awaited news of missing relatives.

Emergency workers have been trying to clear the debris of a gun and bomb attack by the Al Qaeda-linked group on the popular Hayat hotel which left parts of the building in ruins, with many feared trapped inside.

“The ministry of health has so far confirmed the deaths of 21 people and 117 people wounded” in the assault that began on Friday evening and lasted over a day, Adan said.

On Sunday morning, the area surrounding the hotel was under tight security, with the roads blocked as emergency workers and bomb disposal experts sought to clear any explosives and remove rubble.

Anxious citizens await news of missing relatives

The hotel sustained heavy damage during the gunfight between Somali forces and the insurgents.

Parts of the building collapsed, leaving many people frantically searching for their loved ones who were inside when the attack began.

Police commissioner Abdi Hassan Mohamed Hijar told reporters on Sunday that “106 people including children and women” were rescued during the siege which ended around midnight.

As bullets and flames ripped through the hotel, security forces searched the property to bring civilians to safety, including three young children who hid inside a toilet.

“The casualties mostly happened in the early hours of the attack, after that security forces spent time rescuing people individually and room by room,” Hijar said.

The attack was the biggest in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in June, and underscored the challenge of trying to crush the 15-year insurrection by the militant group.

Desperation

Dozens of people gathered near the road leading up to the hotel on Sunday morning, desperate for news of their family members. Businessman Muktar Adan said he was waiting for permission to enter the premises and look for his sibling.

“My brother was inside the hotel the last time we heard from him, but his phone is switched off now and we don’t know what to expect,” he said.

Said Nurow, who heard the attack unfold, said he was very worried about his friend who was a guest at the property.

“I hope... (he) is alive, he stayed in the hotel according to the last information we got from his sister,” he said, describing the mood as “tense”.

The hotel was a favoured meeting spot for government officials and scores of people were inside when gunmen stormed the property.

Somalia’s allies, including the United States, Britain and Turkey, as well as the UN, have strongly condemned the attack. So did ATMIS, the African Union force tasked with helping Somali forces take over primary responsibility for security by the end of 2024. Earlier this month, Washington announced its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabaab operatives in an air strike, the latest since President Joe Biden ordered the re-establishment of a US troop presence in Somalia, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Samira Gaid, executive director of the Hiraal Institute, a Mogadishu-based security think tank, said the “audacious attack” was a message to the new government and its foreign allies. “The complex attack is to show that they are still present, very relevant and that they can penetrate government security and conduct such attacks,” she said.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2022

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