Security forces on Friday ended a siege by Al-Shabaab insurgents nearly 24 hours after the group mounted an attack in the Somali capital Mogadishu that left at least 19 dead.
“The last terrorist gunman was killed after the security forces destroyed a room in which he was taking cover and the siege is over now,” Ismail Muktar, the commissioner for Hamar Jajab district, told reporters.
“The security forces are clearing the area.”
The attack began on the evening of Thursday, February 28 around 1800 GMT, when a Shabaab militant in a car blew himself up, causing a huge blast that ripped the front off a major hotel and left several cars in flames on the busy street.
Other fighters then stormed inside a building housing a restaurant, where they were quickly surrounded by police.
Sporadic shooting continued throughout Thursday night and into Friday.
Medics had pulled five bodies from the wreckage immediately after the explosion, but the recovery of more bodies was blocked for hours by the ensuing fighting.
And by Friday afternoon, they said the toll had climbed significantly.
“We have recovered 14 more dead bodies from under the rubble of collapsed buildings, bringing the total number of dead to 19,” said Aamin Ambulance director Abdikadir Abdirahman.
At least 112 people were admitted to the city’s three main hospitals, hospital sources said.
Heavy explosions could be heard coming from the building on Friday afternoon as elite soldiers appeared to move in to storm Shabaab positions.
The attack is the latest in a long line of bombing and assaults claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked group.
The organization announced that fighters waged a “martyrdom-seeking” and commando operation against what it described as a “luxury hotel inhabited by government officials and security service officers”.
The explosion which began the assault was so powerful that it tossed several vehicles into the air that then burst into flames.
Witnesses said the bombing took place in the early evening, when the street was filled with people relaxing after a day’s work.
“The whole area was in flames,” said Abdisamed Mohamed, a witness. “There was gunfire too.”
Shabaab fighters fled the fixed positions they once held in Mogadishu in 2011, and have since lost many of their strongholds.
Early last month, al-Shabaab targeted the busy Hamarweyne market near the capital’s municipal district. On January 16, the group attacked an upmarket hotel complex in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, killing 21 people during a day-long siege.
Al-Shabaab is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Somalia, but has also carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya, which has deployed troops as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia.
U.S. forces partner with Somali national security forces in counterterrorism operations, and have conducted frequent raids and drone strikes on al-Shabaab training camps throughout Somalia. Africom also works with AMISOM on both advise-and-assist missions as well as air support missions to target al-Shabaab.
In August, the U.S. Department of Defense assessed there to be between 3,000 and 7,000 al-Shabaab fighters and 70 to 250 Islamic State Somalia fighters in the Horn of Africa nation.
With reporting from AFP