At least eight people were killed in an explosion at a hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and several militants were still holed up inside the building, a police officer and witnesses said, hours after a senior al-Shabaab leader was killed in an overnight raid.
“This is the biggest explosion I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mohamed Ali, a policeman, said near the Ambassador Hotel. “It shows al-Shabaab are still a potent threat to the entire population.”
More deaths and casualties are likely, Ali said. Several gunmen stormed into the hotel after the blast and started shooting indiscriminately, according to Dalnar Hassan, a witness who was also bleeding profusely from the shoulder.
Two lawmakers, Abdullah Hussein and Mohamed Guure, were killed, Somalia’s prime minister said in an e-mailed statement.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement read out on Radio Andulus, a broadcaster that supports the group.
The al-Qaeda-linked militants have waged an insurgency in Somalia since 2006 in a bid to impose a strict version of Islamic law. An African Union mission helped the nation’s forces push the militants from Mogadishu in 2011 and since then took over territory in the group’s strongholds in the south and central regions.
But it has remained a potent threat in Somalia, launching frequent attacks aimed at overthrowing the western-backed government.
“These attacks will not slow the progress of peace and security and requires agencies to redouble security to prevent terrorist acts,” according to the statement by Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke.
Somalia’s forces killed Mohamed Dulyadeyn, an al-Shabaab leader who neighboring Kenya believes was the mastermind behind an April 2015 university attack in that country. During the raid, 147 people, mostly students, were killed in the eastern town of Garissa near the Somali border. It was the worst attack by Islamist militants in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi that killed more than 200 people.
Dulyadeyn was killed in an overnight assault on an al-Shabaab stronghold in Bulo Gadud, a village 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the southern port of Kismayo on Tuesday night, according to Abdirashid Hassan Abdi, a regional security minister.
The bodies of four militants killed in the attack were paraded around the town, Mohamed Aden, an army officer, said by phone. Several houses were burnt down, Nuur Hussein, a Bulo Gadud resident, said by phone.
Separately, U.S. forces targeted Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, one of al-Shabaab’s most senior military planners and a coordinator of attacks in the region including in Kenya and Uganda, in an airstrike on May 27, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement on Wednesday. The results of the airstrike are still being assessed, he said.
“The removal from the terrorist network of this experienced al-Shabaab commander with extensive operational experience will disrupt near-term attack planning, potentially saving many innocent lives,” Cook said.
Da’ud was killed in Kunya Barrow in Lower Shabelle region, the government’s news agency reported, citing a National Intelligence Agency official it didn’t identify.