Islamic State claims hotel attack in northern Somalia

An Islamic State fighter raising the group’s flag over the town of Qandala in Somalia’s Puntland Region in Oct. 2016

The Islamic State has claimed yesterday’s suicide assault on a hotel in the northern Somali town of Bosaso in a statement released online. The attack left at least four security guards and at least two gunmen dead.

According to local media, militants affiliated with the Islamic State faction operating in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland stormed the Village Hotel in Bosaso. This prompted a fierce shootout between the militants and the hotel’s security guards, with four guards and at least two gunmen dying. The number of attackers has varied in press reports, as Reuters reported that only three jihadists stormed the hotel, while Somali media has said seven.

In a statement released by the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency, the jihadist group said that “fighters of the Islamic State” were responsible for the assault. Initial reporting pinned the attack on Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, as it is notorious for targeting hotels in Somalia, but Shabaab denied responsibility.

Yesterday’s assault represents the first major attack in Puntland since the fledgling Islamic State branch captured the town of Qandala last October. At the time, a claim by Amaq News stated fighters loyal to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi captured the town after a brief firefight with Puntland security forces. A subsequent video released by Amaq showed a handful of Islamic State fighters parading through the streets and hoisting their black flag on several rooftops of the town. 

A day later, Puntland officials claimed that the militants withdrew from town. However, Somali journalists refuted this claim saying that residents are reporting the jihadists still remain in control. It was not until Dec. 7 that Puntland officially took back control of the town and offered photo evidence. 

A separate Islamic State faction operating in southern Somalia had earlier captured a town in Dec. 2015, the first for Islamic State-loyal militants in the country, but their reign did not last long.

The Islamic State in Somalia was officially formed in Oct. 2015 and is led by Abdulqadr Mumin, a former Shabaab commander. Compared to Shabaab, Islamic State in Somalia is known to be relatively small. It also remains largely concentrated in the northern Puntland Region, but has claimed sporadic attacks in Mogadishu. Pro-Islamic State factions in southern Somalia have had trouble operating due to a large-scale crackdown by Shabaab and its Amniyat, or security service, on any dissenters within the group.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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