Somali government troops shot and killed three Islamist militants holed up in a building in central Mogadishu, police said, ending a day-long bomb and gun attack that killed at least 29 civilians.
Islamist al Shabaab fighters launched the assault with a suicide car bomb outside the Maka Al-Mukarama hotel on Thursday, destroying other structures, igniting a huge fire and leaving people wounded in the rubble.
The militants – fighting to overthrow the Western-backed government – fled to a neighbouring building and fired on special forces and other soldiers sent to flush them out throughout Friday.
“The operation is over and the building is controlled by security forces. Three militants were shot dead, their bodies are inside,” police officer Captain Osman Mohamed told Reuters.
It was the longest the militants had held a position in Mogadishu since Somali troops backed by African Union peacekeepers forced them out of the city in 2011.
“Our special operation in Mogadishu successfully concluded after almost 24 hours. It targeted a hotel frequented by the members of the apostate government. Dozens eliminated, more injured,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman, told Reuters.
He gave a different figure to police, saying: “Four of our Mujahideen were martyred, others managed to come back after the operation.”
The attack on the hotel came the same day US forces carried out an air strike that killed 26 militants in the Hiran area – part of an escalation of Washington’s fight against the al Qaeda-linked group.
Somalia’s government earlier said gunmen took hostages, but there were no immediate details on their fate.
“There are no civilian casualties in this building. There may be dead civilians under the collapsed nearby Hilco UK restaurant,” Captain Mohamed said.
DEATH TOLL MAY RISE
Health officials said it was too early to estimate the full impact of the attack. “The death toll may rise,” said Abdikadir Admen, the director of privately-run Amain ambulance service.
Al Shabaab said it repulsed three government raids on the building.
Soldiers manned roadblocks around the site during fighting and fired into the air to keep back relatives who shouted out the names of missing loved ones.
“I have been running to and fro from the blast scene to hospitals since yesterday in search of my husband and brother … I have just seen them in hospital. They are in a critical condition,” mother-of-three Hallam Omar told Reuters.
Somalia has been convulsed by lawlessness and violence since 1991with a further layer of chaos added in 2015 with the formation of a splinter group of former al Shabaab insurgents who pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
At least 25 people have been killed last week in clashes between the two militant groups, a military official from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland told Reuters.
Al Shabaab carried out attacks in neighbouring countries contributing to the African Union gatekeeper force in Somalia, including one on a hotel and office complex in Kenya in January that killed 21 people.
Under US President Donald Trump, Washington stepped up attacks against the group and US Africa Command announced six air strikes in recent days it said killed 83 militants since February 23.