At least 12 killed as hotel siege enters Somalia on second day

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – At least 12 people were killed when militants linked to al Qaeda attacked a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and took hostages authorities were still struggling to free 24 hours later, an intelligence officer said on Saturday.

The attackers made their way to the Al-Hayat Hotel on Friday evening with two car bombs, before opening fire. The Somali Al-Shabab insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack. Read more

“We have confirmed so far that 12 people were killed, most of them civilians,” Mohammed, an intelligence officer who gave one name, told Reuters.

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

He said they also bombed the stairs to make it more difficult to reach certain floors.

As the blockade entered its second day on Saturday evening, the authorities have secured 95% of the building, Somali National Radio and Television said. The radio did not give an update on the number of casualties.

A former security official familiar with the force told Reuters that those fighting the militants inside the hotel included Kashan, a paramilitary force that specializes in counterinsurgency.

The explosions sent plumes of smoke to the busy intersection on Friday evening, and the sound of gunfire continued to erupt across the capital on Saturday evening.

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Witnesses said that explosions were heard on Friday night as government forces tried to wrest control of the hotel from the gunmen.

They added that the fighting destroyed large parts of the hotel.

Friday’s attack was the first major incident of its kind since President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud took office in May.

Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the jihadist group’s data.

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

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

(This story corrects the source in paragraph 7 to indicate that it is a former security official speaking)

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(cover) Abdi Sheikh Writing by Duncan Merry Editing by Sam Holmes, Christina Fincher and Frances Kerry

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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