October 24, 2016

Gunmen Take Hostages After A Huge Blast At Somalia Hotel

Somali government soldiers run to take their positions during gunfire after a suicide bomb attack outside Nasahablood hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. (Reuters Photo)

MOGADISHU:  Gunmen who stormed a hotel in Somalia’s capital have taken an unknown number of hotel guests hostage, police said today, as the attackers set up snipers on the rooftop and were throwing grenades.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein said some attackers had moved to the second floor and were using machine guns to resist security forces.

Police said the attack on the Nasa-Hablod hotel in Mogadishu began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at its gate. Gunmen fought their way inside, and a witness said they began shooting randomly at hotel guests.

Hussein said security forces have killed two of the attackers.

He also said he saw four bodies, thought to be civilians, lying outside the hotel.

It was not known how many attackers entered the hotel, nor how many guests were inside.

The attackers “took positions behind blast walls and sandbags; fighting is still ongoing,” Hussein said, as gunfire could be heard in the background.

A witness, Ali Mohamud, said the attackers randomly shot at guests. “They were shooting at everyone they could see. I escaped through the back door,” he said.

Yusuf Ali, an ambulance driver, told news agency The Associated Press that he evacuated 11 people injured in the attack to hospitals.

“Most of them were wounded in crossfire,” he said.

The latest attack comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which extremists often step up attacks in this volatile East African country.

The assaults in the seaside capital have highlighted the challenges facing the Somali government and African Union forces that are struggling to secure the country. An attack on another Mogadishu hotel and public garden in February killed at least nine civilians. A car bomb outside a restaurant in the capital in April killed at least five.

The al-Shabab insurgents have been ousted from most of Somalia’s cities but continue to carry out bombings and suicide attacks.

The African Union force faces shrinking resources after the European Union recently cut its funding to the AU mission in Somalia by 20 percent. Citing that cut, Uganda’s military chief said Friday his country plans to withdraw its more than 6,000 troops from the AU force in Somalia by December 2017. The Ugandans are the largest troop contingent.

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