Extremists attacked a Mogadishu hotel Saturday with a car bomb, a suicide vest, grenades and firearms, killing at least 23 people, including a baby, wounding more than 30 and trapping dozens of people on the building’s upper floors.
The attack on the Nasa-Hablod hotel, near the presidential palace, appeared to have devolved into an ongoing battle between militants and government security forces Saturday night. Al-Shabab, Africa’s deadliest extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack that killed a baby and two children, a senior Somali police colonel and a former lawmaker, Capt. Mohamed Hussein told the Associated Press.
Two of the five attackers were killed on the first floor, Hussein said. The others hurled grenades and cut off the building’s electricity as night fell.
Mohamed Dek Haji said he survived the bombing as he walked beside a parked car that was largely destroyed by the explosion. He said he saw at least three armed men in military uniforms running toward the hotel after the suicide bombing at its gate.
“I think they were al-Shabab fighters who were trying to storm the hotel,” he said, lying on a hospital bed. He suffered small injuries on his shoulder and head from flying glass.
Witnesses in some previous attacks have said al-Shabab fighters disguised themselves by wearing military uniforms. The group is believed to be behind a Mogadishu truck bomb attack two weeks ago that killed more than 350 people.
Al-Shabab has been involved in 987 of 1,827 attacks by militant Islamist groups in Africa this year, according to the Africa Center for Security Studies in Washington, D.C. The Somali group has had a long affiliation with al-Qaeda but now appears to be cooperating with ISIS, controlling much of the countryside, analysts said.
A 22,000-strong multinational African Union force in Somalia is expected to withdraw its forces and hand over the country’s security to the Somali military by the end of 2020. U.S. military officials and others in recent months have expressed concern that Somali forces are not yet ready.
The U.S. military also has stepped up military efforts against al-Shabab this year in Somalia, carrying out nearly 20 drone strikes, as the global war on extremism moves deeper into the African continent.
Contributing: The Associated Press