Another long hotel siege ends in Mogadishu

Somali forces have finally ended yet another long hotel siege in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu, almost twenty four hours after it began. The siege, which was upon the Villa Rays Hotel just meters from the presidential palace, was perpetrated by Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa. 

Shabaab’s men began the siege with its typical modus operandi of a suicide car bomb targeting the hotel’s front gates before an assault team entered the perimeter and stormed the building. The gunmen then took hostages as they seized control over the hotel, battling back several attempts to recapture the compound by Somali security forces. 

Exact casualty numbers are still unclear, though it is believed that at least eight people, including a British national, were killed. Two Somali ministers, including Somalia’s Minister of Environment, survived the assault. It is possible the numbers could rise as security forces continue to clear and search the hotel grounds.

Sitting just nearby to Villa Somalia, the presidential palace, the Villa Rays was popular with  many within the Somali government

Somali police forces announced the siege was over around twenty one hours after it began, adding that of the six attackers, five were killed and one detonated himself as security forces were advancing. Videos on social media appear to show large-scale destruction to the hotel and its compound.

Shabaab quickly took credit for the siege yesterday, saying its men were targeting Villa Somalia by storming the nearby hotel. The jihadist group continued to provide updates throughout the long siege, showing its central media apparatus remained in contact with the gunmen. Communicating with the perpetrating gunmen is a common practice of Shabaab. 

This latest hotel assault in Mogadishu comes roughly a month after Shabaab also raided a hotel in the southern city of Kismayo, killing at least nine civilians. These assaults followed Shabaab’s large-scale hotel siege in Mogadishu in August, which lasted over thirty hours and left over 20 people dead. 

The latter raid was the impetus for Somalia’s massive counter-offensives and local clan mobilizations against Shabaab across much of the country’s central regions. Additional counter-offensives were also mounted in some of Somalia’s southern regions, with more potentially on the way. 

Somali forces, along with its allied clan militias, took over several rural areas across central Somalia that were long held by Shabaab. However, Shabaab has since claimed it has recaptured some of these areas. 

The al Qaeda branch has lashed out against these offensives by increasing its deliberate targeting of civilians, which it has justified as attacks against government facilities or so-called “mobilization centers.” This includes the killing of over 100 civilians in two coordinated suicide bombings in Mogadishu just last month. 

Hotel raids also remain a common tactic for Shabaab, which it uses as a show of force within highly fortified areas of Mogadishu. It is thus clear that this most recent siege was meant to show that despite the massive offensives against it, Shabaab retains the capability to strike just near the presidential palace. 

That Shabaab was able to conduct such an operation so close to Villa Somalia should also remind analysts and policymakers that the group is far from weakened. By perpetrating this assault, it is also evident that its vast support and logistical networks inside Somalia’s capital remains very much intact. 

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

And with the two suicide bombings at Villa Rays, Shabaab’s total number of suicide bombings this year stands at 41 according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal

Despite some setbacks in recent years, Shabaab continues to be one of al Qaeda’s most effective branches. Though its fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, it has shown the capacity to weather 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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