MOGADISHU: Somali security forces on Monday ended an hours-long siege by Al Qaeda-linked insurgents who killed eight civilians after storming a prominent hotel in the capital Mogadishu, the police said.

Al Shabaab militants attacked the Villa Rose, a hotel popular with politicians and government officials, in a hail of bullets and explosions at around 8pm on Sunday.

Around 21 hours later, national police spokesman Sadik Dudishe told reporters that “the clearance operation in the Villa Rose hotel has ended.” The jihadists “killed eight civilians who stayed in the hotel and the security forces succeeded in rescuing about 60 civilians, no one among the civilians was wounded,” he added. One member of the security forces also died in the attack, he said.

“There were about six attackers involved — five of them were shot and killed by the security forces and one of them detonated himself.” The authorities have given no details about the identities of the casualties.

The heavily-guarded Villa Rose is located in a fortified area of the capital a few blocks from the office of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Its website describes the hotel as the “most secure lodging arrangement in Mogadishu” with metal detectors and a high perimeter wall. Al Shabaab, which has been trying to overthrow Somalia’s central government for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a statement late on Sunday, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), a 20,000-strong military force drawn from across the continent, praised the “swift” security response to the assault.

Al Shabaab has intensified attacks against civilian and military targets as Somalia’s recently elected government has pursued a policy of “all-out war” against the Islamists.

The security forces, backed by local militias, ATMIS and US air strikes, have driven Al Shabaab from central parts of Somalia in recent months, but the offensive has drawn retribution.

On October 29, two cars packed with explosives blew up minutes apart in Mogadishu followed by gunfire, killing at least 121 people and wounding 333 others.

It was the deadliest attack in the fragile Horn of Africa nation in five years.

At least 21 people were killed in a siege of a Mogadishu hotel in August that lasted 30 hours before security forces were able to overpower the militants inside.

The latest hotel siege has raised questions as to how the militants managed to reach the closely guarded heart of Mogadishu’s administrative district undetected.

Armed checkpoints block roads into the area, which also hosts a detention facility for high-value terror suspects overseen by the National Intelligence and Security Agency.

Somalia’s environment minister, Adam Aw Hirsi, who lives in the Villa Rose, said the attack was not a demonstration of an “emboldened” Al Shabaab.

“To the contrary, the desperate move shows that the terror kingpins running for dear life are throwing their last kicks. We’ll not let up the war,” he posted on Twitter.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2022

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