Mogadishu – Somalis anxiously waited to know the fate of their missing relatives on Sunday as emergency workers attempted to clear debris after a deadly 30-hour siege by al-Shabaab jihadists at a hotel in the capital Mogadishu.
At least 13 civilians lost their lives and dozens were wounded in the gun and bomb attack by the Al-Qaeda-linked group that began on Friday evening and lasted over a day, leaving many feared trapped inside the popular Hayat Hotel.
On Sunday morning, the area surrounding the hotel was quiet and the roads blocked by a heavy security presence as emergency workers and bomb disposal experts sought to clear the premises of any explosives and remove rubble.
More than 30 already feared killed in Mumbai-like siege of Hayat Hotel in Somalia’s #Mogadishu. Toll likely to increase.
Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab carrying out the attack.
Jihad never sleeps. pic.twitter.com/SqcfzT4Gsp
— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) August 20, 2022
The hotel building sustained heavy damage during the gunfight between Somali forces and the militants, causing some parts of it to collapse and leaving many people frantic for their loved ones who were inside when the attack began.
The attack was the biggest in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in June, and underscored the challenge of trying to crush the 15-year insurrection by the Islamist militant group.
The hotel was a favoured meeting spot for government officials and scores of people were inside when gunmen stormed the property.
Officials said earlier that dozens of people had been rescued, including three young children who had hid inside a toilet, but it is not known how many were still in the hotel when the siege ended around midnight.
Dozens of people gathered near the road leading up to the hotel on Sunday morning, desperate for news of their family members as security forces guarded the area, not letting anyone through.
Businessman Muktar Adan, whose brother was inside the hotel when the attack started, told AFP he was waiting for permission to enter the hotel and look for his sibling.
“My brother was inside the hotel the last time we heard from him, but his phone is switched off now and we don’t know what to expect,” he said.
#UPDATE: More than 17 hours huge blasts and gunshots inside Hayat Hotel in #Mogadishu where Alshabab militants stormed on Friday. Standoff continues at Mogadishu’s Hayat Hotel between security forces and Al-Shabaab militants. #Somalia #HayatHotelAttack pic.twitter.com/X6lX3OoNO9
— Mohamed Sabriye (@MaxammedSabriye) August 20, 2022
Said Nurow, who heard the attack unfold as bullets and flames ripped through the hotel, said he was very worried about his friend who was a guest at the property.
“I hope… (he) is alive, he stayed in the hotel according to the last information we got from his sister,” he told AFP, describing the mood as “tense”.
Somalia’s allies, including the United States, Britain and Turkey, as well as the UN, have strongly condemned the attack. So did ATMIS, the African Union force tasked with helping Somali forces take over primary responsibility for security by the end of 2024.
The government is expected to hold a press briefing Sunday morning, according to a security commander.
Mohamud said last month that ending the jihadist insurrection required more than a military approach, but that his government would negotiate with the group only when the time was right.
According to police, the attack began with a blast caused by a suicide bomber who forced his way into the hotel along with gunmen.
A second explosion occurred just minutes later, witnesses said, inflicting more casualties as rescuers, security forces and civilians rushed to help those injured.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdiaziz Abu-Musab told the group’s Andalus radio earlier Saturday that its forces had “inflicted heavy casualties”.
In a statement by the group’s news agency cited by the SITE Intelligence monitoring group, the jihadists claimed to have held hostages during the siege, including government and security officials.
Al-Shabaab has carried out several attacks in Somalia since Mohamud took office, and last month launched strikes on the Ethiopian border.
The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still control swathes of countryside and retain the ability to launch deadly strikes, often targeting hotels and restaurants.
The deadliest attack occurred in October 2017 when a truck packed with explosives blew up in Mogadishu, killing 512 people.
Picture: Getty Images