A Shabaab suicide assault team killed 28 people, including six members of parliament and five soldiers, in an attack on a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu today.
A squad of heavily armed Shabaab fighters, estimated at 10 men, entered the Muna hotel and took the members of parliament and other visitors hostage. The Shabaab fighters were dressed as Somali soldiers and were armed with assault rifles and suicide vests.
“Heavily armed Al-Shabaab fighters stormed the hotel early morning, and took hostage officials who were inside. Then they later killed all of them,” an eyewitness told Garowe.
After Somali troops stormed the hotel in an attempt to free the hostages, the Shabaab fighters detonated their vests.
The Muna hotel is adjacent to the Presidential Palace and is frequented by members of parliament and other officials, according to Garowe. The hotel is in one of a handful of zones under the nominal control of the Somali government and African Union forces.
Today’s suicide assault in Mogadishu is the latest in a string of such attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates. Suicide assaults have been carried out in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and India. The November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai, India, resulted in more than 170 people killed, and the attack shut down India’s financial capital for more than 60 hours.
Shabaab has shown it can penetrate security at the heavily protected areas in the capital. On Dec. 3, 2009, a Shabaab suicide bomber dressed as a woman detonated his vest at a graduation ceremony for medical students at a hotel in Mogadishu and killed 19 people, including the ministers of health, education, and higher education, and two reporters. Somalia’s minister of sports was wounded in the attack, and died on Feb. 12.
On Sept. 17, 2009, Shabaab suicide bombers penetrated security at an African Union base in Mogadishu and killed 21 people, including the deputy African Union commander and 16 other peacekeepers. Sheikh Indha’adde, a top Somali defense official and former ally of Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, is reported to have provided intelligence to the suicide bombers that allowed them to carry out the attack.
Shabaab has carried out 22 major suicide attacks in Somalia since September 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union usurped control of the government (the Islamic Courts was ousted from power in an invasion by Ethiopian forces in December 2006). Several of the attacks have been carried out by American and British citizens who had left their home countries to join Shabaab.
Shabaab has also carried out one suicide attack outside of Somalia’s borders. The July 11 double suicide attack in Kampala, Uganda, killed 74 people. The suicide cell that carried out the attack is called the Saleh ali Nabhan Brigade and is named after the al Qaeda leader who served as the military commander for Shabaab before being killed in a US special operations raid in September 2009.
Background on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda
Shabaab merged with al Qaeda in November 2008 after requesting to join the international terror group in September 2008. Top al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Abu Yayha al Libi have praised Shabaab in propaganda tapes and encouraged the group to carry out attacks against the Somali government, neighboring countries, and the West. In late 2009, Osama bin Laden appointed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed to serve as al Qaeda’s operations chief in East Africa; the announcement was made at a ceremony in Mogadishu that was attended by Ahmad Godane Zubayr, Shabaab’s spiritual leader.
Over the past several years, Al Qaeda commanders have taken over some of the top leadership positions in Shabaab. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania along with Osama bin Laden, served as Shabaab’s top intelligence official before replacing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan as Shabaab’s top military leader.
Other foreign al Qaeda operatives hold top leadership positions in Shabaab. Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa’id, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a “manager” for Shabaab. Abu Musa Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab’s chief of security and training. Mahmud Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab’s chief of recruitment for suicide bombers. Abu Mansour al Amriki, a US citizen, serves as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist.
Al Qaeda’s central leadership, which is based in Pakistan, recently instructed Shabaab to downplay its links to the terror group but to continue to target US interests in the region, a senior US intelligence official who closely follows al Qaeda and Shabaab in East Africa told The Long War Journal.
Shabaab is considered by some US military and intelligence officials to be one of al Qaeda’s most successful affiliates. Shabaab, along with its sometime ally, sometime rival Hizbul Islam, has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia after waging a terror insurgency against Ethiopian forces and the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.
Last spring, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia under fire and were replaced by some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The fractured and weak central government and African Union forces currently control pockets within Mogadishu and little else.
Outside of Mogadishu, the government wields little influence. Shabaab and Hizbul Islam currently control almost all of the southern provinces and many of the central ones as well.
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