At least 20 people were killed and 40 other wounded when Islamic militants stormed a hotel in Somalia’s capital and engaged in an hours-long shootout with security forces, according to authorities in the African nation.
The deadly attack began with explosions outside of the popular Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu late Friday night before gunmen entered the building.
Almost 24 hours later, Somali forces were still trying to get to the last remaining gunman, who was believed to have barricaded himself on the hotel’s top floor. Gunshots still rang out in the city streets Saturday night.
Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, which has ties with al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack as part of its recent campaign targeted places frequented by government officials.
The attack is the first major terrorism incident in the East African capital since Somalia’s new leader, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, took over in May.
State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned the attacks in a statement Saturday evening.
“The United States strongly condemns the Al-Shabaab attack at the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu,” Price wrote. “We express our heartfelt condolences to the families who lost loved ones, wish a full recovery to those injured, and commend Somalia’s security forces.
“The United States remains steadfast in our support of Somali and African Union-led efforts to counter terrorism and build a secure and prosperous future for the people of Somalia.”
The victims have yet to be identified, but many are believed to be civilians. Forty people were admitted to Mogadishu’s Madina Hospital with injuries from the attack, hospital director Mohamed Abdirahman told the Associated Press.
Nine were sent home after getting treatment and five are in critical condition in the ICU, he said.
Abdullahi Hussein said he was enjoying tea in the hotel lobby when he heard the first blast, followed by gunfire.
“I immediately rushed toward hotel rooms on the ground floor and I locked the door,” he told the Associated Press. “The militants went straight upstairs and started shooting. I was inside the room until the security forces arrived and rescued me.”
As he was led out of the hotel to safety, he said he saw “several bodies lying on the ground outside hotel reception.”
Al-Shabab is considered to be the most dangerous Islamic extremist group in Africa. Since the group was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011, it has slowly begun regaining territory.
The group is the largest threat to political stability in Somalia, despite efforts from African Union peacekeepers and targeted drone strikes by the US military.
In early May the militants attacked a military base for AU peacekeepers outside Mogadishu, killing many Burundian troops. The attack came days before Mohamud resumed power following a presidential election, five years after he was voted out.
With Post Wires