Two Islamist militants shot dead 30 people, including six members of parliament (MPs), in a suicide attack on a Mogadishu hotel yesterday, a senior Somali official said.
The militants from the Shebab insurgency were disguised as government security forces. They blew themselves up to avoid arrest after the indiscriminate attack on the hotel housing MPs and Somali civil servants.
The brazen attack just a stone's throw from the presidential palace marked a new escalation on the second day of clashes that had already left 29 civilians dead across the war-ravaged Somali capital.
The operation by the al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab group during Ramadan drew strong condemnation from the Western-backed transitional government and its African Union backers.
“Thirty people died in this ambush. Six of them are members of the Somali parliament and four are Somali government civil servants,” Somali Deputy Prime Minister Abdirahman Haji Adan Ibbi told reporters.
“The 20 others are innocent civilians who died in this horrible incident,” he said.
A reporter who managed to enter the Hotel Mona compound said the doors of every single room and even the toilets had been smashed open by the two attackers.
Officials visiting the scene of the carnage held their noses because of the stench of burned flesh and smoke.
Witnesses and hotel staff said the attackers were wearing government security uniforms and shot dead security guards at the gate to the compound as they rushed into the three-story building.
“They rained gunfire on everybody. Nobody stood a chance. I was lucky because they aimed at me but I jumped out of the window and survived,” hotel employee Adan Mohamed said.
“People were screaming, there was total panic. When they decided they had finished killing everybody, they climbed to the balcony and started opening fire on government forces outside the hotel,” he said.
One government soldier who took part in the fighting and refused to give his name said one of the bombers detonated his suicide vest on the balcony when he saw they were surrounded.
“These two guys were on the balcony, close together, shouting Allahu Akbar [God is greatest]. It seems one of them failed to detonate his vest, but the other did and that probably killed both of them,” he said.
“One of them was blown to pieces, only the head remains. The other one's body is completely burned, he is all black,” he said.
The bloodbath at Hotel Mona, which lies in the small area of Mogadishu firmly under government control and provides accommodation for dozens of MPs and other officials, comes on the second day of a deadly battle in the city.
The Shebab on Monday launched a major offensive against government army barracks in several Mogadishu districts, sparking clashes that left at least 29 civilians dead, said Ali Muse, head of ambulance services.
“This operation is meant to eliminate the invading Christians and their apostate government in Somalia. The fighting will continue and, God willing, the mujahidin will prevail,” Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage said on Monday.