Shabaab suicide assault team strikes hotel in Mogadishu

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A team of heavily armed fighters from al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa launched a suicide assault on a popular hotel and park in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The attack was likely carried out by Shabaab’s “Abu Musab al Zarqawi Martyrdom Battalion,” which has carried out similar operations in the past.

Shabaab first detonated a car bomb in front of the Somali Youth League (SYL) Hotel and then an assault team breached the perimeter and entered the hotel. Not long after the attack happened at the SYL Hotel, another explosion, thought to be a car bomb, occurred at the nearby Peace Garden park. According to the BBC, the jihadist group told its news services that it was “in control” of the hotel, but some witnesses reported that Shabaab was not able to enter the hotel. The assault has left at least nine people dead in one of the more heavily guarded areas of the capital.

In a statement released by the al Qaeda-linked Global Islamic Media Front, which disseminates videos and other material from different jihadist groups, Shabaab claimed the car bomb was a suicide bombing. It also said the hotel was targeted because the hotel is popular with “kuffar diplomats and apostate government officials.”

Somali police are reported to have ended the siege relatively quickly and successfully killed all four jihadists. Unfortunately, before the attack was repelled, Shabaab killed nine people and wounded 30 others in the two blasts and the subsequent gun fight.

This is not the first time Shabaab has targeted the SYL Hotel. On Jan. 22, 2015, Shabaab claimed credit for a bombing at the hotel that killed three people. The attack took place as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a delegation were at the hotel.

Shabaab has frequently targeted hotels in Mogadishu, as these are often meeting places for government officials and foreigners. In 2015, Shabaab launched three major attacks on hotels in the capital.

In November 2015, Shabaab attacked the Al Sahafi hotel. The attack, which began with two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED’s, or car bombs) before an assault team entered the breached perimeter,  left at least 15 dead.

In July 2015, Shabaab killed more than 10 people after storming the Jazeera Hotel. This was not the first time the Jazeera was targeted by the jihadist group. Shabaab also hit the hotel in January 2014 and September 2012; the president and Kenya’s foreign minister were present during the 2012 attack, but they were unhurt.

In March 2015, the jihadist group stormed another hotel and briefly seized control of it before the attackers were killed by security forces. One month earlier, a suicide assault team hit the Central Hotel, a gathering place for Somali parliamentarians and other members of government, killing several senior Somali politicians.

The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using one or more suicide bombers and sometimes a follow-on assault team, is a tactic frequently used by al Qaeda and its branches, as well as allied groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Islamic State also often employs this tactic. Suicide assaults are commonly executed by jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • Arjuna says:

    Add Baidoa to the list of recent, complex suicide assaults. Besides hitting every hotel and restaurant where “elites” and non-Somalis congregate, they’ve also attacked the Presidential Palace, the Parliament (twice), UNISOM HQ, and successfully gotten a bomb past airport security onto a plane. Just in the last twelve months. Seems like yet another theater where the enemy is upping the ops tempo.

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