Somalia vows crackdown after siege that killed 20
Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire: "The Somali government will never stop its war on Al Shabaab
The Somali government has vowed to step up efforts to fight extremist groups, following a nearly 24-hour standoff between Al Shabaab and security forces in the capital Mogadishu.
"The Somali government will never stop its war on Al Shabaab, our aim is to be done with them, whatever the cost," Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire told reporters late on Friday.
The deadly siege began on Thursday at around 1800 GMT, when an Al Shabaab militant in a car blew himself up. The huge blast ripped the front off a major hotel and left several cars in flames on the busy street, Agence France-Presse reported. At least 20 people were killed.
The attack on a busy area lined with hotels, shops and restaurants was the latest in a long string of bombing and assaults claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked group.
"The whole area was in flames," said Abdisamed Mohamed, a witness.
A statement posted on a pro-Shabaab website confirmed four of the militants had been killed. Others, they said, had managed to escape.
The statement said the group's fighters waged a "martyrdom-seeking" operation against a "luxury hotel inhabited by government officials and security service officers".
Prime Minister Khaire praised the elite soldiers for their courage, saying they had rescued 35 civilians used as "human shields" by the assailants.
According to a spokesman for Al Shabaab, members of the terror group repelled three attempts by government forces to enter the hotel. “We targeted and stormed Hotel Maka Al Mukaram. We are still inside it,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab on Thursday. Other fighters then stormed a building housing a restaurant, where they were quickly surrounded by police.
Medics pulled five bodies from the wreckage immediately after the explosion, but the recovery of more bodies was blocked for hours by the ensuing fighting.
Sporadic shooting continued until officials finally declared an end to the siege late Friday afternoon.
"Our teams have recovered one more dead body after the operation was over and this makes the overall number of the confirmed dead 20," Aamin Ambulance director Abdikadir Abdirahman told Agence France-Presse on Saturday.
At least 112 people were admitted to the city's three main hospitals, medical sources said.
Al Shabaab declared its allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2010 and is believed to have between 5,000 and 9,000 members.
On Friday the US said it had killed 26 of the group's fighters with an airstrike in central Somalia – the 24th strike carried out by the Americans against Al Shabaab so far this year. One strike last month reportedly killed 52 fighters, while another killed 24.
The US military is one of several security actors in Somalia, along with a multinational African Union mission and troops from Kenya and Ethiopia. The United States says it acts in coordination with Somalia's government, whose military is expected to take over primary responsibility for the country's security over the next few years.
Updated: March 2, 2019 06:57 PM