Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for a deadly attack near Somalia’s presidential palace

The Wehliya hotel, frequented by government officials.
The Wehliya hotel, frequented by government officials.
Image: Reuters/Feisal Omar
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This post has been updated.

Militant group Al-Shabaab says it was behind attacks on two hotels in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, which have killed at least six civilians, Reuters reports.

One of the hotels, the Siyad, where fighting continued into the night, is near the presidential palace, raising questions about the government’s ability to protect itself against the Qaeda-affiliated group.

“Three fighters have been shot dead and another blew himself up inside the car bomb that hit the gate. The operation here is finished. So far we know six civilians died,” Umar Ali, a local police officer, referring to the incident near the Wehliya, the other attacked hotel, told Reuters.

Information on the identity of the civilians killed at the Wehliya hotel, a building near the fortified government district and frequented by top government officials, is not yet known.

Security minister Abdirasak Omar Mohamed told reporters that “seven attackers were involved in the hotel [Wehliya] attack while five attackers were involved in the [Siyad] hotel, and all of them were killed,” according to Agence France Presse.

A statement from the UN special representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, seemed to contradict this account.  The attacks “resulted in the death and injuries of civilians, members of the security forces, AMISOM (African Union) troops and government officials,” he said.

The attack at the Wehliya reportedly began as guests inside its restaurant were sitting down to break their Ramadan fasts, one witness told Reuters.

The attacks may be part of an attempt by Al-Shabaab to counter reports that it is close to being defeated by African Union-backed, UN supported forces (AMISOM), who have been working to prop up the weak Somalian government since 2007.

Over the last few years, the militant group has carried out deadly operations in neighboring countries involved in the AMISOM mission. In 2013, an attack in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall left 67 people dead, striking fear in the heart of Kenya’s capital. Earlier this year, a massacre at a local university in the northeastern Kenyan town of Garissa claimed 147 lives. Just last week, the group claimed responsibility for the killing of 14 civilians in a village near the Kenyan border.