/ 7 December 2022

Al-Shabaab shocks Mogadishu with 20-hour standoff

Mogadishu Car Bomb Attacks Kill 16
Ongoing threat: Although Al-Shabaab was driven out of Mogadishu more than a decade ago and lost control of several towns in recent months, its latest attack on a hotel next to the president's official residence shows that it remains a danger. Photo: AFP

Al-Shabaab gunmen on Sunday, 27 November, stormed a hotel next to Villa Somalia in Mogadishu, the official residence of Somalia’s president. Several government ministries and both houses of Parliament are nearby. 

This is, in theory, one of the best secured neighbourhoods in the entire city. The perimeter of the Villa Rays Hotel was breached by five armed men after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle. 

They held the hotel for 20 hours, battling with state security into Monday morning. Eight civilians were killed in the fighting. At least four cabinet ministers were caught in the siege, along with at least 60 other people. 

Parliament did not meet as scheduled on Monday due to the gunfire that could still be heard inside the hotel. The siege ended when security forces killed the five gunmen. For the government, led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the inquest is just beginning. 

Best back foot forward

Al-Shabaab was officially driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 by African Union peacekeepers. The militant group still controls parts of Somalia’s countryside, and regularly carried out fatal attacks on the capital. 

However, as The Continent reported in October, the group is currently battling a “groundswell of rebellion” from ethnic militias in central Somalia, who receive support from the Somali National Army. 

Since September, Al-Shabaab has lost dozens of towns it once controlled. It appeared to be on the back foot. But the daring attack on the Villa Ray Hotel has shaken Somalia’s elite, and brought this narrative into question. 

Adam Hirsi, one of the ministers rescued from the hotel, said on Twitter that the attack is “by no means a manifestation of an emboldened terrorists” but a “desperate move” that “shows that the terror kingpins running for dear life are throwing their last kicks.” He vowed, “we will not let up the war.” 

President Mohamud, who took office in May, has also pledged “all-out war” against Al-Shabaab. But an irate Dahir Amiin Jesoow, a parliamentarian who chairs the security committee, told The Continent that the attack reveals the holes in Somalia security apparatus. 

“This is not acceptable for militants to attack a place so close to the presidency. Our security services must commence immediate investigation and action taken against culprits who facilitated the Al-Shabaab attack.” 

The perception that Al-Shabaab’s attacks are facilitated from inside the state security agencies is widely held. Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, the leader of the Wadajir political party, said that rampant corruption within the police force has helped Al-Shabaab conduct complex attacks in Mogadishu and other parts of the country. 

“People who are well known to have squandered the security sector are still in charge. Others are very corrupt and have amassed wealth that is the proceeds of corruption,” said Abdishakur.

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.