26 killed in deadly Somalia hotel siege
At least 26 people, including several foreigners, were killed and 56 injured in a suicide bomb and gun attack claimed by Al-Shabaab militants on a popular hotel in southern Somalia, a top regional official said Saturday.
A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the Medina hotel in the port town of Kismayo on Friday before several heavily armed gunmen forced their way inside, shooting as they went, authorities said.
The siege lasted for almost 12 hours and only ended on Saturday morning after clashes with security forces. Three Kenyans, three Tanzanians, two Americans, one British and one Canadian were among the 26 people killed in the attack, president Ahmed Mohamed Islam of the semi-autonomous Jubaland region told a news conference.
"The security forces are in control now and the last terrorist was shot and killed", Mohamed Abdiweli, a security official, said.
"There are dead bodies and wounded people strewn inside the hotel and we cannot give exact detail of the casualties but we have confirmed so far 12 people killed and more than thirty others wounded," Abdiweli said.
"We believe... there were four gunmen involved in the attack and the death toll could be higher because we see (the) devastating consequences of the (bomb) blast and gunfire," he added.
Authorities said Friday a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the Medina hotel in the port town of Kismayo before several heavily armed gunmen forced their way inside, shooting as they went.
"The blast was very big," said witness Hussein Muktar.
"There is chaos inside, I saw several dead bodies carried from the scene and people are fleeing from the nearby buildings," Muktar said during the assault.
The attack is the latest in a long line of bombing and assaults claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked group.
Witnesses said among those killed were a well-known social media activist, her husband and a local journalist.
"The relatives of local journalist Mohamed Sahal confirmed his death and I'm getting that social media activist Hodan Naleyeh and her husband also died in the blast," witness Ahmed Farhan said.
The Somali journalists' union SJS confirmed the reporters' deaths. "It is a very sad day for Somalian journalists," the union's secretary-general Ahmed Mumin said in a statement.
Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.."There are also two wounded Chinese citizens," he added.
"Mujahidin fighters carried out a martyrdom attack on one of the hotels accommodating the apostate officials of the Jubaland administration," the group said, referring to an autonomous southern zone in the troubled country whose main city is Kismayo.
According to several sources, most of those staying in the hotel were politicians and traders ahead of upcoming regional elections.
Shabaab fighters have fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government.
The militant group emerged from Islamic Courts that once controlled central and southern Somalia and are variously estimated to number between 5,000 and 9,000 men.
In 2010, the Shabaab declared their allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
In 2011, they fled positions they once held in Mogadishu, and have since lost many strongholds.
But they retain control of large rural swathes of the country and continue to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities.