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.

Heavy gunfire rang out across central Mogadishu on Friday as Somali troops battled to dislodge Islamist insurgents holed up next to a hotel they bombed the previous evening, and as the death toll stemming from that attack neared 30.

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.

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.

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