MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali authorities on Sunday ended a deadly attack in which 21 people were killed and dozens more wounded when gunmen stormed a hotel in the capital.
It took Somali forces more than 30 hours to contain the fighters who had stormed Mogadishu's Hayat Hotel on Friday evening in an assault that started with loud explosions.
The siege ended around midnight, police commissioner Abdi Hassan Hijar told reporters. “During the attack, the security forces rescued many civilians trapped in the hotel, including women and children," he said.
Health Minister Dr. Ali Haji Adam reported 21 deaths and 117 people wounded, with at least 15 in critical condition. He noted that some victims may not have been brought to hospitals.
Police are yet to give a detailed explanation of how the attack unfolded and it remains unclear how many gunmen entered the hotel.
Ismail Abdi, the hotel's manager, told The Associated Press early Sunday that security forces were still working to clear the area. No more gunfire could be heard after 9 a.m. local time. Onlookers gathered outside the gates of the badly damaged hotel on Sunday morning, surveying the scene.
The Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, which has ties with al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest of its frequent attempts to strike places visited by government officials.
Al-Shabab opposes the federal government and the outsiders who support it.
The attack on the hotel is the first major terror incident in Mogadishu since Somalia’s new leader, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, took over in May.
Somalia’s previous president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, avoided any major confrontation with al-Shabab. But Mohamud has said his government will take the offensive against the group’s thousands of fighters, with the backing of returning U.S. forces.
Al-Shabab charged via its Andalus radio station that the attack on the hotel was in response to Mohamud's assertion that he would eliminate the group from Somalia.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, according to a spokesman's statement that said the U.N. supports the people of Somalia ”in their fight against terrorism and their march towards peace.”
Al-Shabab remains the most lethal Islamic extremist group in Africa.
The group has seized even more territory in recent years, taking advantage of rifts among Somali security personnel as well as disagreements between the government seat in Mogadishu and regional states. It remains the biggest threat to political stability in the volatile Horn of Africa nation.
Forced to retreat from Mogadishu in 2011, al-Shabab is slowly making a comeback from the rural areas to which it retreated, defying the presence of African Union peacekeepers as well as U.S. drone strikes targeting its fighters.
The militants in early May attacked a military base for AU peacekeepers outside Mogadishu, killing many Burundian troops. The attack came just days before the presidential vote that returned Mohamud to power five years after he had been voted out.