Shabaab hits hotel, military base with suicide assaults

Shabaab’s claim of responsibility for the assault on the Elite Hotel in Mogadishu, as republished by al-Qaeda’s al-Hijrah Media.

Over the past two days, Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, has launched two suicide assaults across Somalia. The first targeted a popular hotel in Mogadishu, while the second hit a Somali military base outside of Baidoa.

Yesterday, a team of Shabaab’s men attacked the popular Elite Hotel on Mogadishu’s Lido Beach. In its standard procedure for these operations, the jihadists began the assault with a suicide car bombing on the hotel’s perimeter. An assault team then entered the hotel, killing civilians and taking even more as hostages.

According to local reporting, at least 10 civilians and one member of Somalia’s security forces were killed during the nearly four hour attack.

Officials from Somalia’s information and defense ministries were also confirmed among the dead.

The spokesman for Somalia’s Ministry of Information also confirmed that Somali special forces were able to free at least 205 people taken as hostage in the hotel.

Shabaab quickly claimed the operation, stating via its Shahada News Agency that “a martyrdom operation targeted the government headquarters, the Elite Hotel.” The al-Qaeda branch then states that the hotel is popular among Somali officials

Providing a perverse justification for its massacre, it also adds that the hotel was targeted because its owner, Abdullahi Mohamed Nur, is a former government minister and current member of Somalia’s parliament.

Striking hotels and other establishments popular with Somali or international government officials with a suicide assault is a common tactic of the jihadist group.

Over the past few years, Shabaab has raided Mogadishu’s SYL Hotel on multiple occasions, Maka al Mukarama Hotel, Dayah Hotel, Beach View Hotel, Ambassador’s Hotel, Central Hotel, Al Sahafi Hotel, and Jazeera Hotel.

Elsewhere, Shabaab has also struck hotels in Kismayo and in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi.

Suicide assault on military base

In addition to yesterday’s terrorist attack, Shabaab has also claimed today’s raid on a military base in Goof Gaduud near the southern city of Baidoa.

Utilizing a similar modus operandi, a suicide car bomb detonated near the base’s perimeter before an assault team began firing on security forces.

At least five soldiers were killed in the raid, including two Somali officers, while an estimated 10 militants were killed. Local outlets, however, have stated the death toll for both sides may actually be higher.

For its part, the Somali National News Agency stated that “dozens” of Shabaab militants were killed.

Garowe Online, a local Somali publication, has also reported that the local police chief and mayor were among the dead in the base. Other outlets have stated that Shabaab’s men initially overran the outpost and booby-trapped dead bodies before withdrawing.

In Shabaab’s statement of responsibility, which was republished by al-Qaeda’s al-Hijrah Media, it repeated the death claim for the local officials while adding that at least 8 Somali soldiers were killed.

With the two new suicide bombings, this means Shabaab has conducted at least 21 suicide bombings inside Somalia since the beginning of the year according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. At least eight of the bombings have occurred inside Mogadishu.

Attacks continue on Somali government officials

Shabaab has also continued to target Somali government officials in this year’s renewed assassination campaign.

Around the same time as yesterday’s hotel assault that killed two officials, Shabaab also attempted to assassinate Somalia’s education minister, Abdullahi Godah Barre, in an ambush with an improvised explosive device (IED) in the southern region of Gedo.

Local media has reported that Barre was lightly injured, while two members of his delegation were also hurt in the blast. Shabaab quickly claimed credit for the explosion, though its first statement offered no additional details from local reporting.

But earlier today, the Shabaab-affiliated website Somali Memo stated that three additional Somali government officials, including two members of parliament, were also targeted in the Gedo blast.

An additional Somali official was reported injured at the time, but the lawmaker’s name was not immediately revealed.

Since March, Shabaab has conducted a campaign of coordinated attacks against Somali government and military officials.

For instance, it has assassinated two governors with suicide bombings, kidnapped and executed one state lawmaker, and attempted to kill Somalia’s top general in another suicide bombing.

Despite some setbacks in recent years, Shabaab continues to be one of al-Qaeda’s most effective branches. It maintains significant control over much of southern Somalia and retains the ability to strike in Mogadishu, Kenya, and against heavily fortified bases in both Somalia and Kenya.

Though its fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, it has weathered numerous offensives from an array of local, regional, and international actors, including the United States.

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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