Somali forces still fighting al-Shabab in overnight attack

Gunfire continued midday Friday in Somalia’s capital as security forces fought with al-Shabab extremists holed up in a building hours after a car bombing in Mogadishu left at least 18 dead, with the toll expected to climb. Police Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press that at least 40 others were injured in the complex attack that began Thursday evening as many Somalis relaxed in the popular area of restaurants and hotels.

Hussein said security forces were trying to neutralize the extremists hiding in a building close to the Maka Almukarramah hotel, which the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, claiming responsibility, said had been the target. The hotel is patronized by government officials, and the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab has targeted it multiple times in attacks that have killed scores of people.

Hussein said the death toll could rise. Many victims had horrific injuries — some had lost limbs, nurse Sadiya Yusuf at Daru Shifa hospital said — and hospitals were said to be struggling to cope with the number of causalities. The attack began when the car bomb went off near the home of appeals court chief Judge Abshir Omar, and security forces fought off gunmen who tried to force their way inside, Hussein said.

At least four gunmen then opened fire at nearby buildings and businesses, sparking clashes with hotel guards, he said. Dozens of cars caught fire along Maka Almukarramah Road. The style of the attack echoed previous ones by al-Shabab in Mogadishu as well as the attack in January at a luxury hotel complex in the capital of neighboring Kenya that killed 21 people.

The United Nations mission in Somalia and others in the international community quickly condemned the ongoing attack, one of the worst in Mogadishu in months. It came after the U.S. military carried out a number of deadly airstrikes in recent days against al-Shabab, considered the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa. Al-Shabab opposes Somalia’s federal government and wants to impose sharia law.

The U.S. has dramatically increased such airstrikes since President Donald Trump took office. The U.S. military command for the African continent reported carrying out 50 strikes in Somalia in 2018. This year, the airstrikes have come at an even faster pace. The U.S. military command for Africa reported 23 as of Tuesday, including one in central Somalia that killed 20 extremists and another a day earlier that killed 35.

Source: Associated Press