An assault by the Somali militant group al Shabaab on a popular hotel in Mogadishu ended Saturday morning after a bloody 12-hour siege that left at least 14 people dead and dozens wounded.
The dead include a Somali diplomat, five civilians, four hotel guards, and four government soldiers, Information Minister Mohamed Abdi told Reuters. Four attackers were also reported killed.
The attack began at around 4pm Friday afternoon when al Shabaab gunmen stormed into the Hotel Maka Al Mukaram after a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near the hotel's front gate.
After the initial car explosion outside the hotel, the attackers rushed into the building and began throwing grenades, shooting at civilians, and later exchanging fire with Somali troops. One militant detonated an explosive-laden suicide belt and blew himself up inside the hotel, police Capt. Ahmed Abdi told CNN.
The attackers took several hostages and remained firmly entrenched inside the hotel until US-trained Somali special forces dislodged them early Saturday morning. Mohamed Moalimu, a BBC correspondent in Somalia, reported chaos at the scene Friday night, with bodies being evacuated as sporadic gunfire was heard inside.
Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group, had previously targeted the hotel, which is popular with diplomats and foreigners. A spokesman for the militant group told the BBC that they "don't consider it to be a hotel — it's a government base."
Canadian lawyer Abdurahman Hosh Jibril told the Star that the hotel was popular with politicians and expats. "It had high-speed internet, an indoor barber shop, a mini store where people can buy things you cannot find in Somalia, like certain cereals or cookies that the diaspora kids wanted," he said.
Yusuf Bari-Bari, Somalia's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, was among those killed in the attack.
The UN's special envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, immediately condemned the incident in a statement on Saturday, saying he is "appalled by the complete disregard for the lives of innocent civilians shown by the attackers."
Al Shabaab controlled the Somali capital from 2007 to 2011 before an offensive by African Union forces drove them out. The militants still control many rural areas in Somalia and routinely carry out bombings in the capital. Al Shabaab took responsibility for another car bombing earlier this month at the Hotel Maka Al Mukaram.
Last month, the group released a video threatening to attack the Mall of America and other Western shopping centers. The 77-minute video also attempted to justify the group's brutal assault on Kenya's Westgate Mall that left more than 60 people dead in 2013.
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