MOGADISHU – A gunbattle raged in Mogadishu on Friday between Somali soldiers and al-Shabab fighters, holed up in a building next to a hotel they had hit with a suicide car bomb the previous evening.
Heavy gunfire resounded across the Somali capital through the night and as dawn broke, police said the death toll, put at 13 so far, was rising following the blast at the Hotel Maka Al-Mukarama, located on a street lined with hotels, shops and restaurants.
“The security forces rescued dozens of civilians in the hotel and nearby buildings. The militants are still inside and exchange of fire still continues. So far we confirmed 13 people died and scores were injured,” Maj. Mohamed Hussein, a police officer, told Reuters on Friday.
“The death toll may rise. It was very difficult for the security forces to enter the building last night because it is dark and electricity was cut by the blast. Now it is daybreak, and we hope the operation will be concluded in the following hours,” he said.
Al-Shbaab’s military spokesman said they still controlled the hotel.
“The government tried three times to enter the building but we repulsed them. We still control the hotel,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab.
The street where the blast occurred was closed on Friday.
Reuters witnesses saw frantic residents in the city searching for missing relatives through the night, making countless phone calls to find out if anyone had seen their family members.
“I have been running to and fro from blast scene to hospitals since yesterday evening in search of my husband and brother, who were selling a shop at the place where the blast took place. I have just seen them in the hospital; they are in critical condition. My husband lost his stomach and my brother suffered severe wounds to both arms,” said Halima Omar, a mother of three.
Somalia has been convulsed by lawlessness and violence since 1991. Al-Shabab is fighting to dislodge a Western-backed government protected by African Union-mandated peacekeepers.