A hotel siege in Somalia continues for a second day, killing at least 12 people

MOGADISHU, Aug 20 (Reuters) – Al Qaeda militants killed at least 12 people in an attack on a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu, an intelligence official said on Saturday, 24 hours after authorities were still fighting to free hostages.

The attackers exploded inside the Hyatt Hotel on Friday evening with two car bombs before opening fire. Somalia’s Al Shabaab rebels claim responsibility. read more

“So far we have confirmed 12 deaths, mostly civilians,” intelligence official Mohammad told Reuters, giving only one name.

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Mohammed said the gunmen were holding an unknown number of hostages on the second floor of the building, preventing officers from using heavy weapons.

They bombed the stairwells to make access to some floors difficult, he said.

As the siege entered its second day on Saturday evening, authorities had secured 95% of the building, state broadcaster Somali National Television reported. The broadcaster did not provide an updated death toll.

Among those fighting militants inside the hotel were Kashan, a paramilitary force specializing in counterinsurgency, a former security official familiar with the force told Reuters.

The explosions sent huge plumes of smoke over a busy intersection on Friday night, and gunfire still rang out across the capital on Saturday evening.

Eyewitnesses said they heard explosions as government forces tried to free the hotel from militants on Friday night.

Large parts of the hotel were destroyed in the fighting, they said.

Friday’s attack was the first major such incident since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May.

Condemning the attack, the US said it was committed to “supporting Somali and African Union-led efforts to counter terrorism”.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost loved ones, wish the injured a full recovery, and commend Somalia’s security forces,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist group reports.

Al Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the Somali government for more than 10 years. It wants to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

The Hyatt Hotel is a popular destination with lawmakers and other government officials. There was no immediate word on whether any of them were caught in the siege.

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Reported by Abdi Shaikh; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Washington; Written by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Sam Holmes, Christina Fincher, Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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