At least 15 people have been killed in Mogadishu after a suspected al-Shabaab militant crashed his vehicle into a gate outside a hotel frequented by diplomats, and gunmen stormed the building.
The al-Qaida-affiliated militant group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack on the Hotel Ambassador in the Somali capital. “We targeted the members of the apostate government … We killed many of them inside and we shall give details later. Our mujahideen are on the top floor of the hotel building,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabaab’s military operation spokesman, told Reuters.
Authorities could not immediately verify al-Shabaab’s statement.
Major Ibrahim Hassan, a police officer, told Reuters that two MPs were among those killed: “Lawmakers Mohamud Mohamed and Abdullahi Jamac died in the hotel. They lived in it. Many other people including lawmakers were rescued. The operation is about to end now. So far the death toll we have is 15 dead and 20 others wounded.”
Residents and a Reuters reporter at the scene of the attack said they could still hear sporadic gunfire.
Colonel Ali Mohamed, a Mogadishu police officer, said the hotel was hit by a car bomb that rammed its gate.
Hassan had said earlier that police suspected al-Shabaab fighters were still present in the hotel. Radio Mogadishu, a state-run station, had said government forces remained at the scene rescuing people from the hotel.
Al-Shabaab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011. But it has remained a potent threat in Somalia, launching frequent attacks aimed at overthrowing the western-backed government.
In February at least nine people were killed when al-Shabaab fighters set off a car bomb at the gate of a park near a hotel in the capital. In January an attack on a beach-front restaurant killed at least 17 people .
Al-Shabaab has also been behind deadly attacks in Kenya and Uganda. Both contribute troops to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
Maka al-Mukaram, where Wednesday’s attack took place, is a major street lined with hotels, restaurants and banks in the heart of the capital. It links another major artery, K4, to the presidential palace.
On Wednesday, before the hotel attack, government officials announced two strikes against the militants – one of which killed the head of the al-Shabaab intelligence unit. The other killed the suspected mastermind of an attack on a university in Kenya last year, in which 148 people died.
Abdifatah Omar, Mogadishu’s municipality spokesman, said that security forces had killed a man known only as Daud who had headed al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing. Omar did not say when he was killed or give any other details.
In the second incident, Abdirashid Hassan Abdi, the semi-autonomous Jubbaland region’s security minister, said its forces had killed 16 al-Shabaab fighters in Bulagadud, around 30km to the north of the Indian Ocean port of Kismayu.
Among the dead, he said, was Mohamud Ali Dulyadeyn, suspected to have masterminded the April 2015 attack on Garissa University, the worst such assault in Kenya in almost 20 years.
The Pentagon also said on Wednesday that a US airstrike had targeted a senior leader of al-Shabaab in Somalia but it was still assessing the results of the 27 May drone operation.
The Pentagon’s spokesman, Peter Cook, said the target, Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, was one of al-Shabaab’s senior military planners and served as a principal coordinator of attacks in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda.
Al-Shabaab, which aims to impose its own strict version of Islamic law across Somalia, had no immediate comment on the killings announced by Somali authorities.