Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, carried out a devastating attack last night outside the Jazeera hotel in Mogadishu.
In a staggered assault, three bombs exploded within an hour of each other, causing mayhem as first responders were wounded as they rushed to help. The attack came after a radio message released by Shabaab warned Somalis to stay away from government and foreign-controlled areas as new assaults were imminent.
According to a Somali police officer, the first attack occurred when a suicide bomber drove into the gate of the hotel, killing himself and four other people while the second attack was a car bomb and caused mayhem as first responders rushed to the scene. Reuters reported the first two bombs came in quick succession and were followed by exchanges of gunfire between Somali security forces and attackers. It was later confirmed that two men who appeared to be suicide bombers were shot and killed during the attack when they tried to force their way into the hotel amidst the explosions. The third bomb exploded approximately one hour later in a car being searched by the military.
The first explosion occurred at 8 p.m. local time, killing four soldiers. The second attack resulted in the deaths of two police chiefs from Shingani and Wardhigle districts who were taking part in rescue operations.
Somali and AMISOM troops immediately cordoned off all roads leading to the hotel.
Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, which it says was aimed at intelligence officials who were meeting at the hotel, and Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage boasted that this was the start of its campaign for 2014. According to Agence France Presse, his message today stated that “[t]he apostates are the eyes and the ears of the invaders and these attacks serve as a well-deserved punishment for their role in guiding and assisting the invading forces in their crusade.”
Following the attack, in which at least 11 people were killed and 17 or more were wounded, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed issued a press release condemning Shabaab and reiterating his government’s commitment to ending the insurgency.
The latest assault is Shabaab’s second attack on the Jazeera hotel, which is popular with both tourists and government officials and is located in one of the most heavily fortified areas of Mogadishu. In September 2012, the group sent three suicide bombers to attack Somalia’s new president and Kenya’s foreign minister as they were speaking. The two officials escaped unhurt, but at least seven people were killed on what was President Hassan Sheik Mohamud’s first day in office.
Despite a military offensive led by the African Union and backed by the US that began in 2011, Shabaab still controls vast areas of southern and central Somalia. During the offensive, Shabaab was driven from major cities and towns such as Mogadishu, Kismayo, and Baidoa, but towns such as Bulobarde and Barawe remain under the terror group’s control. The group has weathered the Ethiopian invasion, which began in December 2006 and ousted its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union. More than six years later, Shabaab remains a capable force in southern Somalia and an integral part of al Qaeda’s global network.
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