It is a measure of the inherent strength of the Al Qaida-linked al-Shabab siege of Somalia, that the convulsion in the small Horn of Africa nation, ended after close to 48 hours, to the collective relief of the citizens. The authorities have taken control of Hotel Hyatt at Mogadishu, the capital, after the deadly attack by al-Shabab fighters that continued for as long as it did. “The ministry of health has so far confirmed the deaths of 21 people and 117 people wounded,” Health Minister Ali Haji Adan told national broadcaster SNTV on Sunday.
Last Friday’s attack at the Hyatt, a hotel popular with lawmakers and government officials, was the first major incident since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May, and government forces stepped up operations against al-Shabab. “This was the worst hotel siege we have seen,” said the police.
Far from continuity, the militants are shrilling for a change of dispensation. They shot and killed civilians who fled towards the wall of the hotel compound and its blown-up gate. Witnesses said they saw flames tear through the hotel during bombardment by security forces, with heavy explosions and gunfire. As bullets and flames ripped through the hotel, security forces searched the property to bring civilians to safety, including three young children.
The casualties mostly happened in the early hours of the attack; after that security forces spent time rescuing people individually and room by room. “This was the worst hotel siege we have seen,” said a police captain.
He added that 10 security personnel were killed with firearms and grenades. The armed group linked to Al Qaida, 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, said the attack bore the “hallmark of al-Shabab’s operations” in Somalia.” These hotels are usually attacked because these are areas where government officials congregate.
Considerable activity and several meetings are taking place “especially right now, with the new government coming into place and setting up a lot of its appointments and its positions,” he said. Al-Shabab was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 by African Union forces, but it still controls swathes of the countryside and is able to launch deadly attacks on political, civilian and military targets, with hotels and restaurants often hit. As much was palpable on 19 August. While this operation may have ended, lasting peace in the violence-torn country remains a distant dream.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 1, 2022, issue.