Al-Shabaab attack on Mogadishu hotel on Sunday leaves 5 dead

Eight children were also killed in another attack in Golweyn, 40 km from the coastal town of Merca

AFP/ABDIRAZAK HUSSEIN FARAH  -   The remains of a car that was destroyed during the car bomb attack are seen in Mogadishu, December 28, 2019

The Al-Shabaab terrorist group sowed chaos again in Somalia, killing five people and injuring a dozen others at a hotel near the airport of the capital, Mogadishu, according to the African country's authorities. 

The Afrik Hotel was hosting a political conference of the opposition, which is preparing for elections on 8 February, when five attackers entered the hotel firing shots, throwing grenades and finally blowing themselves up. The hotel is also frequented by local government officials and army officers, police spokesman Ali Hasan said.

"A moving vehicle exploded next to the hotel's access control. The explosion hit us and heavy gunfire followed the blast," a local shopkeeper told Reuters. "The explosion shook the hotel as we sat inside, there was panic and confusion," said another who managed to escape by throwing himself over a wall: "I jumped and ran," he summed up.

Police confirmed that one of the terrorists, who had barricaded himself in the hotel rooms, was killed on Monday morning, putting an end to the attack on Sunday afternoon, in which nine of the terrorists were killed.

Among the five civilians killed was General Mohamed Nur Galal, a senior military commander and former deputy minister of defence in the late 1970s and defence minister under President Ali Mahdi in 1991.

"The reason it took so long to complete the operation was to rescue those trapped inside the hotel before neutralising the attackers," said Sadik Adan, another police spokesman. 

REUTERS/FEISAL OMAR - Somali military officers attend a training programme Mogadishu, Somalia

No terrorist group initially claimed responsibility for the attack, but Al-Shabaab was the main suspect from the beginning. The organisation, which has been affiliated with Al Qaeda since 2012 and controls rural areas in central and southern Somalia, where it seeks to impose a Wahhabi Islamic state, frequently organises attacks in Mogadishu. 

The organisation itself later confirmed this on its radio, in which it spoke of a "martyrdom operation" carried out by "mujahedin in the Afrik Hotel" against "apostate government officials", although mainly people linked to the opposition were present. They later claimed to have taken control of the hotel.

Somali President Mohamed Abdulahi Mohamed condemned the attack and sent his condolences to the families and relatives of the victims. He also made special mention of Nur Galal, highlighting the role he played in building and strengthening the armed forces. "The Somali people united will defeat this ruthless enemy, now is the time to unite and liberate our entire country," he said.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble joined in the condolences, calling the attack by the Islamist group "heinous". 

The US, which supports the Somali government, regularly bombs Al-Shabaab positions. The latest bombing took place last Friday against a compound of the terrorist group in the southwest region of the country, where they were holding a meeting.

Somalia, considered a failed state, has been in a state of constant war since 1991 when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown, destroying the state apparatus and leaving the country without effective government and in the hands of Islamist militias and warlords. Added to all this is the self-proclamation of Jubaland, Somaliland and Puntland as independent but unrecognised states.