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Siege ends after deadly Al Shabaab attack in central Mogadishu

Abdirazak Hussein FARAH / AFP | Volunteers and rescue workers evacuate an injured victim outside the Maka Al-Mukarama hotel in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu on February 28, 2019.

A nearly day-long siege in the heart of Somalia’s capital ended with all of the al-Shabaab extremist attackers killed, police said Friday, as the death toll was at 24 and expected to climb.

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Capt. Mohamed Hussein told the Associated Press that an operation to clear the besieged buildings had begun, with bodies found. Two of the dead were soldiers, he said.

The overnight attack began with a pair of car bombs exploding in a popular area of Mogadishu where Somalis were relaxing at restaurants and hotels Thursday evening. One went off near the home of appeals court chief Judge Abshir Omar, and security forces fought off gunmen who tried to force their way inside, Hussein said.

At least four gunmen then opened fire at nearby buildings and businesses, sparking clashes with hotel guards, he said. Dozens of cars caught fire along busy Maka Almukarramah Road.

The extremists then holed up inside buildings, exchanging gunfire with security forces who worked well into Friday to rescue trapped civilians. Police said more than 10 people had been freed since morning.

The al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab, Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack and said its target had been the nearby Maka Almukarramah hotel, which is patronised by government officials. The extremist group has targeted it multiple times, killing scores of people.

Horrific injuries

Police said the death toll could rise. Many victims had horrific injuries – some had lost limbs, nurse Sadiya Yusuf at Daru Shifa hospital said – and hospitals were said to be struggling to cope with the number of causalities.

Doctors at Erdogan Hospital in Mogadishu said they had received 55 wounded people, with three succumbing to injuries. Many were in critical condition and 15 had undergone surgeries, said Dr. Ismail Yamas, the hospital manager.

The style of the attack echoed previous ones by al-Shabaab in Mogadishu as well as the attack in January at a luxury hotel complex in the capital of neighbouring Kenya that killed 21 people.

The United Nations mission in Somalia and others in the international community quickly condemned the attack, one of the worst in Mogadishu in months.

It came after the US military carried out a number of deadly airstrikes in recent days against al-Shabaab, considered the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa. Al-Shabaab opposes Somalia’s federal government and wants to impose sharia law.

More airstrikes

The US has dramatically increased such airstrikes since President Donald Trump took office. The US military command for the African continent reported carrying out 50 strikes in Somalia in 2018.

This year, the airstrikes have come at an even faster pace, with 24 so far.

The US military said on Friday that it had killed 26 al-Shabaab fighters with an airstrike in central Somalia, after a pair of strikes earlier this week killed 55. The airstrike was announced shortly after Somali authorities said a deadly overnight siege in Mogadishu had ended.

The US Africa Command said the latest attack occurred Thursday in the Hiran region, where the others took place.

Authorities and experts acknowledge that it will take more than airstrikes to defeat the extremist group, which holds large parts of rural central and southern Somalia.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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