MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali forces Saturday morning ended an all-night siege on a hotel in the southern port city of Kismayo, in which the death toll has risen to 26 people, including a prominent Canadian-Somali journalist and several foreigners, officials say.
Those killed include three Kenyans, three Tanzanians, two Americans, one Canadian and one Briton, said Ahmed Madobe, the president of Jubbaland regional state which controls Kismayo. Fifty-six people, including two Chinese, were injured in the hotel attack, he told reporters.
At least four al-Shabab assailants attacked the Asasey Hotel Friday evening, beginning with a suicide car bomb at the entrance gate and followed by an assault in which gunmen stormed the hotel, which is frequented by politicians, patrons and lawmakers.
The attack lasted more than 14 hours before troops shot dead all attackers inside the hotel compound, Col. Abdiqadir Nur, a local police officer, told The Associated Press.
The militants attempted to maintain control of the hotel but failed to do so when engaged by Somali security forces, a defense official tells Military Times.
Somalia's Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack. Al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaida, often uses car bombs to infiltrate heavily fortified targets like the hotel in Kismayo, which has been relatively quiet in recent years.
Al-Shabab remains the largest terror organization in East Africa, Air Force Col. Chris Karns, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, told Military Times. The extremist group was responsible for a truck bombing in Mogadishu in October 2017 that killed 500 people in one of the deadliest violent extremist attacks since 9/11.
“It is important to continue to actively degrade al-Shabab to prevent its intent to cross borders,” said Karns. “Actions such as these demonstrate and define the true nature and character of al-Shabab. It also reinforces the need for continuous pressure on the network to prevent its spread across borders.”
At any given time, said Karns, anywhere from 650 to 800 U.S. personnel are in Somalia, helping to build the Danab, an elite force trained by the U.S. military.
The U.S. has conducted 46 airstrikes against violent extremist groups in Somalia this year in support of the Federal Government of Somalia “and to apply continued pressure on terror organizations wishing to do harm to African partners and U.S. interests,” said Karns.
Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh and her husband, Farid Jama Suleiman, died in the attack, Mogadishu-based independent radio station Radio Dalsan confirmed to AP.
"I'm absolutely devastated by the news of the death of our dear sister Hodan Nalayeh and her husband in a terrorist attack in Somalia today. What a loss to us. Her beautiful spirit shined through her work and the way she treated people," Omar Suleiman, a Texas-based imam who knew the victim, wrote on social media.
Nalayeh was born in Somalia in 1976, but spent most of her life in Canada, first in Alberta and then in Toronto. She founded Integration TV, an international web-based video production company aimed at Somali viewers around the world. She was the first Somali woman media owner in the world.
Despite these periodic attacks, incremental progress and positive reform is occurring in places like Somalia, said Karns.
“The evil activities of a few, don’t define the future of a people, nor does it erase progress,” he said. “The Somalis have made considerable progress in the areas of governance, defense and economic development. Hard-earned, steady incremental progress is occurring in Somalia.”
Military Times managing editor Howard Altman contributed to this report.