Al-Qaeda-linked Somali militants storm Mogadishu hotel, kill at least 33
NAIROBI, KENYA -- Al-Qaeda-linked Somali militants, including at least two suicide bombers, killed at least 33 people Tuesday when they stormed a hotel in Mogadishu, Somali officials said.
The dead included at least six lawmakers in Somalia's U.S.-backed transitional government. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the Somali capital in recent years.
Disguised as security-force personnel, the attackers forced their way into the Hotel Muna about 9:45 a.m. and began firing, killing bodyguards who were protecting the lawmakers. A floor-to-floor gun battle followed, as lawmakers used their own weapons against the assailants, witnesses said.
At least five Somali soldiers died before the attackers were cornered by dozens of government soldiers who had arrived later. At least 22 civilians also died, Somali officials said.
"They were shooting at everyone indiscriminately," Abdirahman Omar Osman, Somalia's minister of information, said in a telephone interview. "That was their mission. If the Somali security forces had not intervened, they could have killed many more before they blew themselves up."
"This is a very sad day for Somalia," he added.
The hotel is in Mogadishu's Hamar Weyne enclave, not far from the heavily guarded Villa Somalia, the presidential palace. It is widely known to house lawmakers and security officers.
It was unclear how many attackers stormed the hotel. Some Somali officials said there were two; others said there were at least four.
By Tuesday afternoon, the al-Shabab militia, which has links to al-Qaeda, had asserted responsibility for the attack. On Monday, the militia had said it would launch a major offensive against the government and Somalia's "invaders," referring to the Western-backed African Union peacekeeping mission that is protecting the sliver of the capital under government control.
Last month, al-Shabab asserted responsibility for the twin bombings in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, that killed more than 70 people watching the World Cup final on television at two venues. It was the first major international operation by the militia, which is increasingly being influenced by foreign jihadists in its fold and al-Qaeda tactics used in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
In December, an al-Shabab suicide bomber killed four government ministers at a graduation ceremony at another Mogadishu hotel.
Tuesday's attack came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, evoking comparison to Ramadan bombings in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The attack also underscored the inability of Somalia's fragile government and the African Union force to bring order to one of the world's most notorious failed states, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from the United States and its allies. Somalia has been mired in chaos since the collapse of the central government in 1991.
The dead included hotel staff members and at least three youths who were outside the hotel washing cars, said Abdulqadir Haji, the director of a volunteer ambulance service whose vehicles ferried the wounded to local hospitals. Haji said his drivers counted at least 20 bodies and 16 wounded.
"It's getting worse and worse in Mogadishu since Ramadan, day after day," Haji said. "Who knows what will happen before the end of Ramadan?"