Somali forces have ended a deadly siege by Al-Shabab gunmen at a hotel in the country’s capital, Mogadishu, according to a report.
The AFP news agency, citing a security commander, said the siege ended after about 30 hours late on Saturday.
At least 13 civilians were killed and dozens were wounded in the siege, which began when fighters from the al-Qaeda affiliated armed group unleashed a gun and bomb attack on the popular Hayat Hotel on Friday evening.
“The security forces have ended the siege now and the gunmen are dead, we’ve had no incoming gunfire from the building in the past hour,” the commander told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He gave no further information about the total number of civilian or security casualties or how many al-Shabab fighters had been killed, saying the government would give a press briefing on Sunday morning.
The building still needed to be cleared of any explosives that may have been planted, he added.
The AFP report came hours after the state-run Somali National News Agency (SONNA) said on its Twitter account that security forces had secured 95 percent of the building. SONNA published a picture of a soldier inside a hotel room with rubble and blown out windows and another showing a crane lifting a soldier to the top floors of the three-storey building.
#UPDATES:The Security Forces are still conducting an operation to get rid of the terrorists who attacked #Hayat hotel in #Mogadishu. 95 percent of the building has been secured. There are casualties including fatalities and the police will give details soon.#Somalia pic.twitter.com/boPsA6E2N7
— SONNA (@SONNALIVE) August 20, 2022
AFP said security forces had pounded the hotel with heavy weapons late on Saturday in a bid to eliminate the assailants who were holed up there for a second straight night.
Witnesses watching the drama unfold from the rooftop of another building told the news agency that they saw flames tear through the hotel during the bombardment by security forces, with heavy explosions and gunfire reported.
Dozens of people were trapped in the hotel when the assault began and although officials said dozens had been rescued, including children, it is not known how many were still inside when the siege ended.
Security official Mohamed Abdikadir had told AFP earlier the number of civilians confirmed to have died was 13, while police officer Ibrahim Duale put the toll at more than 10.
One woman, Hayat Ali, said three young relatives aged between four and seven were found by security forces hiding in a hotel toilet in a state of shock but were later reunited with their family.
Another survivor told AFP that he and some colleagues had performed evening prayers and were taking tea in one of the hotel’s open spaces when they heard the first explosions on Friday.
“I managed to run to a nearby exit gate away from the gunmen,” Hussein Ali said. “The gunmen started firing and I could hear the shots behind me, but thanks to God… we managed to escape.”
Hallmark of al-Shabab operations
The attack was the biggest in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May and comes as government forces have stepped up operations against al-Shabab.
The armed group, which claimed responsibility for the siege, has been fighting to topple the Somali government for more than 10 years. It wants to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Omar Mahmood, senior analyst for eastern Africa at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera that the attack on Hayat Hotel bore the “hallmark of al-Shabab’s operations” in Somalia.
“These hotels are usually attacked because that’s areas where government officials congregate. A lot of meetings, a lot of activities, especially right now, with the new government coming into place and setting up a lot of its appointments and its positions,” he said.
“But there’s also often a secondary element to some of these attacks. Al-Shabab runs a very extensive extortion racket within Mogadishu itself. And they target business owners that haven’t complied [with their demands].”
Al-Shabab spokesman Abdiaziz Abu-Musab told the group’s Andalus radio earlier on Saturday that its forces were still in control of the building and that they had “inflicted heavy casualties”.
In a statement by the group’s news agency, cited by the SITE Intelligence monitoring group, the armed group claimed to have held hostages during the siege, including government and security officials.
Somalia’s allies including the United States, United Kingdom and Turkey as well as the United Nations have strongly condemned the attack, as has ATMIS, the African Union force tasked with helping Somali forces take over primary responsibility for security by the end of 2024.
Al-Shabab was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 by AU forces, but still controls swathes of countryside and is able to launch deadly strikes on political, civilian and military targets, with hotels and restaurants often hit.
In June, the group’s fighters carried out several attacks on villages near and across the border with Ethiopia, reportedly killing more than a dozen people, including Ethiopian police officers and civilians. Dozens of al-Shabab fighters also reportedly died in the attacks.
Hodan Ali, a Washington, DC-based Somali analyst, said the two-day siege of the Mogadishu hotel showed al-Shabab’s strength and the many challenges facing Mohamud’s new government.
“Given that the president and his new security agenda, which is a top priority, has really sort of frazzled Shabab. And they are really trying to strike in ways that have not yet been seen to show that they are an organization to reckon with. What we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks shows Shabab has the capability and the wherewithal to execute these attacks, both within Somalia and in the border areas,” Ali told Al Jazeera.
“What is really baffling is that they are able to carry out these multiple attacks so successfully is something the security sector of Somalia needs to deal with, and also it’s a regional threat. Shabab is not just a Somali problem, it’s a regional problem. It is a global organization.”