Gunmen posing as military forces held dozens of people hostage inside a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital, in an attack that began when a car bomb exploded at the gate, police and a witness have said, while the extremist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.

Two of the gunmen were shot dead and 10 hostages were rescued but five other attackers were thought to remain inside, cutting off electricity to complicate security forces’ efforts to end the siege, Cpt Mohamed Hussein said. He said heavy gunfire was heard.

Police said at least nine people had been killed and several wounded in the initial attack. Most of the victims were young men who were entering the Pizza House when the vehicle exploded, Hussein said.

The gunmen were dressed in military uniforms, witness Nur Yasin told the Associated Press. “They forced those fleeing the site to go inside” the restaurant, Yasin added.

The blast largely destroyed the restaurant’s facade and sparked a fire. While al-Shabaab claimed to have attacked the neighbouring Posh Treats restaurant, which is frequented by the city’s elite and was damaged in the blast, security officials said the Pizza House was targeted instead.

Security forces rescued Asian, Ethiopian, Kenyan and other workers at Posh Treats as the attack continued, Hussein said.

The Somalia-based al-Shabaab often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu, including hotels, military checkpoints and areas near the presidential palace. It has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government launched a new military offensive against it.

Al-Shabaab last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, with more than 4,200 people killed in 2016, according to the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

The extremist group also faces a new military push from the US after Donald Trump approved expanded operations, including airstrikes, against it. On Sunday, the US military in Africa said it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp.

The Somalian president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, confirmed the airstrike and said such attacks would disrupt the group’s ability to conduct new attacks.

With a new federal government established, pressure is growing on Somalia’s military to assume full responsibility for the country’s security. The 22,000-strong African Union multinational force, which has been supporting the fragile central government, plans to start withdrawing in 2018 and leave by the end of 2020.

Also on Wednesday, the UN security council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the organisation’s political mission in the country, which is trying to rebuild after more than two decades as a failed state, until 31 March 2018. The resolution recognised that “this is a critical moment for Somalia”.

 

 

Source: The Guardian