At least seven people were killed in a complex suicide vehicle bomb and gun attack on a hotel in the southern Somalia port town of Kismayo on Friday, July 12, a security official said, the latest in a long line of bombing and assaults claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group.
“We have confirmed the death of seven people including a former local administration minister and a lawmaker,” said Abdi Dhuhul, a security official. “The toll may increase since the attack is not over yet.”
Local official Abdi Ahmed told the Associated Press that at least 10 people had been killed, while local journalists put the toll even higher.
The hotel’s name has been variously reported as Medina, Asasey, Cascasey and Maamuus.
Authorities said a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle loaded with explosives at the entrance to the hotel before several heavily armed gunmen forced their way inside, shooting as they went.
“The blast rocked the popular Medina hotel … which is located in downtown Kismayo,” said security official Abdiweli Mohamed.
“Several gunmen entered and started shooting but the security forces responded quickly and engaged in a gunfight with the terrorists inside the building,” he added.
“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.
There were reports of gunfire more than six hours after the initial explosion.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.
“Mujahidin fighters carried out a martyrdom attack on one of the hotels accommodating the apostate officials of the Jubbaland administration,” the group said, referring to an autonomous southern zone in the troubled country whose main city is Kismayo.
In a later update, Shabaab claimed the gunmen in the hotel repelled Somali special forces four times.
According to several sources, most of those staying in the hotel were politicians and businessmen, ahead of upcoming regional elections.
Witnesses said among those killed were a well-known activist, her husband and a journalist.
BREAKING: Kismayo-based television reporter Mohamed Sahal Ga’madhere killed in Kismayo attack – multiple source confirm. pic.twitter.com/6N4JOlJJ6u
— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) July 12, 2019
“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,” another witness, Ahmed Farhan, said.
The Somali Journalists Syndicate confirmed the reporters’ deaths. “It is a very sad day for Somalian journalists,” the union’s secretary-general Ahmed Mumin said in a statement.
UPDATE: presidential candidate in the upcoming Jubbaland elections Mohamed Ismaael Shakur and Journalist Ahmed Sahal also confirmed dead in Kismayo terror attack
— Goobjoog News. (@Goobjoognews) July 12, 2019
Al-Shabaab fighters have fought for more than a decade to overthrow the internationally backed government in Somalia, attacks have also carried out in neighboring Kenya, which has deployed troops to AMISOM, the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia.
In 2010, al-Shabaab pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. The following year the group was pushed out of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu by AMISOM, and in 2012 it was driven out of Kismayo.
The group has lost many strongholds, but still controls vast rural areas and remain the key threat to peace in Somalia.
With reporting from AFP