Militants storm hotel in Somali capital just ahead of crucial election

NAIROBI, Kenya (NYTIMES) – Militants with the extremist group al-Shabab stormed a major hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday evening (Jan 31), the authorities said, raising fears of growing violence in the Horn of Africa nation as it faces a bitterly contested election season and the withdrawal of US troops.

The attack, which began at around 5pm local time, took place at the Afrik Hotel, which is on the road to the city’s major international airport and a popular meeting place for politicians, lawmakers and members of the security services.

Images and video shared on social media showed smoke billowing into the blue skies.

Heavy gunfire and blasts were heard in the hotel’s vicinity, according to Ismael Mukhtar Omar, the spokesman of Somalia’s Ministry of Information.

Authorities said that the al-Shabab militant group, which is al-Qaeda’s most powerful ally in Africa and has wreaked havoc across East Africa, carried out the attack.

Security forces were continuing to engage them inside the hotel on Sunday night.

A Somali police spokesman, Sadiq Adan Ali, said in a statement that most of the people who were at the hotel had been evacuated.

Abdulkadir Adan, the founder of Aamin Ambulance, Mogadishu’s only free ambulance service, said in a text message that his team had removed the bodies of two people killed in the attack, and had taken another 11 who were injured from the site of the violence.

Mohamed Nur Galal, a former top military general, was killed in the attack, Omar confirmed in a post on Twitter.

Somalia military arrive at the scene of a bomb explosion at the Afrik Hotel in Mogadishu on Jan 31, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Among those rescued were senior federal and regional government officials along with security officers, he added.

The attack came just weeks before a crucial parliamentary and presidential election that has been plagued by disputes over how to properly conduct the voting, creating an impasse that risks delaying the vote and pushing the government past its constitutional term limit.

The elections were scheduled for Feb 8, but that timeline looks unattainable now.

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