Rebel fighters targeting Somali MPs have killed at least 31 people in a suicide attack. Jonathan Rugman reports on what has been described as an “indiscriminate” shoot-out.
Al Shabaab militants have stormed a hotel in the Somali capital killing at least 31 people. The government says six of the dead were members of parliament, while another five were government security personnel.
In a telephone interview Information Minister Abdirahman Osman said: “The blood of the dead is leaking out of the hotel.”
“They were shooting at everyone indiscriminately. 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.”
According to Osman one gunman had been captured and two others had blown themselves up, and that sporadic gunfire and shelling were continuing in the area: “Some of the MPs had guns in their rooms and defended themselves before security forces arrived,” said an anonymous government security source.
According to Abdulqadir Haji, the director of a volunteer ambulance service, whose vehicles ferried the wounded to local hospitals, the dead included hotel staff and at least three youths who were outside the hotel washing cars.
During the attack militants dressed in army uniforms stormed the Muna hotel in Mogadishu, which is frequently used by senior government figures.
The hotel is located in the Hamarwayne enclave, one of the small nominally government-controlled areas of the capital, between the presidential palace and the Indian Ocean.
Although supposedly a government held, area security sources say more than 300 armed al Shabaab fighters were thought to be living in the neighbourhood.
In July al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the twin bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala, which killed more than 70 fans watching the World Cup at two venues.
In December, an al-Shabab suicide bomber killed four government ministers at a graduation ceremony held at another Mogadishu hotel.
The latest attack came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, evoking similarities to Ramadan bombings conducted in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by al-Qaeda in Iraq militants.
The al Shabaab group, which has been linked to al Qaeda, has been fighting the western-backed ‘transitional-government’ for the past three years and now controls most of the capital.
On Tuesday, the spokesman for the group, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters in Mogadishu that its fighters had “carried out an operation at Hotel Muna” and succeeded in killing government and intelligence officials, MPs and civil servants.
The raid was one deadliest in the capital in recent years. According to witnesses the attackers forced their way into the hotel at around 9:45 a.m. and began firing indiscriminately, killing bodyguards protecting the lawmakers. A floor-to-floor gun battle followed, as lawmakers with their own weapons fought back their assailants.
The attack highlights the failures of the sitting government and more than 63,00 Ugandan African Union peacekeepers who, after two decades of near anarchy have failed to bring order to the nation which is a major source of instability in the region.
On Monday, the African Union announced the arrival of hundreds of new peacekeeping troops, mostly Ugandans, for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mission to help the government in its battle against al Shabaab.
The force has so far been able to do little more than guard the airport and port and shield President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
Somalia’s members of parliament, the apparent targets of Tuesday’s attack, do not benefit from this protection: “We have the same enemies … and I don’t know why the MPs don’t have the same security,” said pro-government lawmaker Abdiladif Muse Sanyare.
The militants now have a stranglehold on much of central and south Somalia but analysts warn that despite fears the country will serve as a base for Islamist militancy, western powers are reluctant to send forces to Somalia.
“What we are going to see is greater international support for AMISOM, more training of its soldiers and a lot in the way of indirect attempts to support the transitional government (TFG),” said Will Hartley, terrorism analyst at IHS Jane’s. “The international community is very much wedded to the TFG.”
But Rob Harford, operations director at Salamanca Risk Management, said even African peacekeepers, whom al Shabaab portray as foreign invaders, risk becoming part of the problem:
“Whether more African Union troops will lead to greater stability is the million-dollar question. Somalia is a particularly unstable and complex insurgency. Unless the soldiers are properly trained, their arrival will almost certainly lead to greater instability.”
Ambassador Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of AMISOM said: “It’s sad to learn that Armed Opposition Groups do not see the wisdom of giving peace a chance in their country.
“Today’s attack on innocent civilians clearly demonstrates the cowardly and barbaric mindset of those opposed to the peace process and cannot be condoned.”