Somalia — Gunmen from the Somali extremist group al-Shabab, who had taken up positions in a hotel frequented by government officials and dignitaries killing at least nine people, were exchanging fire with government troops more than 12 hours later, officials said Saturday.
After the gunmen’s initial attack Friday, government troops managed to take up the first floor of the Maka Al-Mukarramah hotel in the capital Mogadishu. The gunmen were believed to be on the third and fourth floor, Capt. Mohammed Hussein said.
Hussein said the attackers were hurling grenades at the Somali special forces. The African Union Mission In Somalia, or AMISOM, posted on Twitter that there were reports of possible hostages.
The attack started when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car at the gate of the hotel. Gunmen then quickly moved in.
Hours later, the militants were still holed up in the hotel’s dark alleys and rooms. Sporadic gunfire could be heard, but it appeared that the security forces would wait until daybreak before trying again to dislodge the militants.
Al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group that has carried out many attacks in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the assault on the hotel, which is popular with Somali government officials and foreigners.
But al-Shabab routinely carries out suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks in Mogadishu, the seat of Somalia’s Western-backed government — often targeting government troops, lawmakers and foreigners.
Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital and other major cities by African Union forces. Despite major setbacks in 2014, al-Shabab continues to wage a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s government and remains a threat in the East African region.
The group has carried out attacks in neighboring countries, including Kenya, whose military is part of the African Union troops bolstering Somalia’s weak government from al-Shabab insurgency.
At least 67 people were killed in a September 2013 attack by al-Shabab on a mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.