Shabaab assaults hotel in southern city of Kismayo

Yesterday, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, conducted a large-scale siege on the Tawakal Hotel in Somalia’s southern city of Kismayo. At least nine civilians were murdered by the jihadist group during the attack. 

Starting with Shabaab’s typical modus operandi of a suicide car bomb targeting the security perimeter of the Tawakal Hotel, a team of gunmen then launched into the fray, shooting at civilians as they entered the building. Local officials in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Jubaland have confirmed that three gunmen were involved. 

The subsequent siege and hostage situation ended six hours later after military personnel killed the three gunmen and rescued most of those trapped in the hotel.

Local officials confirmed that at least nine civilians were killed with an additional 47 wounded. Some of the wounded included schoolchildren who were leaving a nearby school, Jubaland officials added. 

The Kismayo siege comes roughly two months after the group’s thirty-hour hotel siege on the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu. And yesterday’s siege in the southern Somali city is the first in Kismayo since 2019

Shabaab was quick to claim credit for the assault, arguing that the Tawakal Hotel, a civilian building, was a military target. Abdulaziz Abu Musab, Shabaab’s official military spokesman, told international media that the group was targeting Jubaland military and government officials who allegedly work from the hotel. 

An official statement released by the group expanded on this supposed justification, saying that the Tawakal Hotel was the site of “preparation[s] of rebel militias intended to be part of the project of fighting Shari’a.” Shabaab thus warned the populace to “stay away from the projects [against the group].” 

The group also released an audio statement from one of the gunmen inside the hotel during the siege, showing that Shabaab’s leadership maintained communication with the terrorists throughout the attack. This is also a common modus operandi for Shabaab.

Unsurprisingly, Shabaab justified its terrorist attack under the pretext of the massive counter-offensives underway against it across central Somalia and parts of southern Somalia. Jubaland itself is also set to eventually start its own anti-Shabaab offensive, though it is unclear if yesterday’s attack changes the timeline for these proposed operations. 

Shabaab has conducted a series of reprisal attacks against the counter-offensives, largely targeting civilian infrastructure with suicide bombings. Yesterday’s suicide bombing was the sixth so far this month perpetrated by the al Qaeda branch. 

Earlier this month, it conducted a triple suicide bombing on the district headquarters in the city of Beledweyne in Somalia’s central Hiraan Region. At least 30 people were killed in those blasts.

And last week it perpetrated a coordinated attack with two suicide bombings on two important bridges in the towns of Bulobarde and Jalalaqsi, also both in Hiraan. 

The group has conducted at least 36 suicide bombings in Somalia so far this year, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal

As the massive counter-offensives against Shabaab continue to mount and expand across Somalia, Shabaab is expected to conduct more reprisal terrorist attacks on civilian targets as it tries to sap political will and popular support from the offensives. 

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, where it also controls territory, and against heavily fortified bases in both Somalia and Kenya.

Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at 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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