Somali survivors early Thursday described harrowing scenes of the night-long siege of a popular Mogadishu restaurant by al-Shabab Islamic extremists that was ended by security forces.
At least 17 people, including foreigners, were dead, police and an ambulance driver said. Survivors of the attack were led by soldiers from the Pizza House restaurant building. The injured were taken by ambulances.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility as the restaurant was under siege.
Soldiers surrounded the restaurant building and used guns mounted on the backs of vehicles to neutralize the militants. Troops entered the ground floor while the insurgent snipers held positions upstairs.
All five attackers were killed and after dawn the soldiers secured the building, said senior Somali police office Capt. Mohamed Hussein. The troops’ efforts to take control of the Pizza House restaurant were slowed by the darkness of night, forcing them to wait until morning, said Hussein.
Survivors recounted harrowing stories of hiding under tables, as armed attackers continued firing in the restaurant and hunted for patrons. Attackers moved from room to room, looking for people, said a survivor.
“I never thought I would have the chance to see the sun again. They were killing people on sight,” Saida Hussein, a university student, told The Associated Press. She said she survived the attack by hiding behind a large table downstairs.
— Live From Mogadishu (@Daudoo) June 15, 2017
Another survivor, Aden Karie, was wounded by an attacker who spotted him moving behind a curtain in the dark room.
“He shot at me twice and one bullet struck me on the leg,” said Karie as he was taken to an awaiting ambulance.
The roofs were blown off the restaurant and nearby buildings from the powerful blasts.
The bodies of five girls thought to have been killed by the militants were found in the restaurant, said police. Inside the building, the body of a Syrian man who worked as a chef at restaurant lay near the rubble of a blood-spattered and bullet-marked wall.
The attack began Wednesday evening a car bomb exploded at the gate to the restaurant and then gunmen posing as military forces stormed into the establishment.
An ambulance driver with the Amin Ambulance service, Khalif Dahir, said early Thursday they had carried 17 bodies and 26 wounded people. Most of the victims were young men who had been entering the Pizza House when the vehicle exploded, Hussein said.
The gunmen “were dressed in military uniforms. They forced those fleeing the site to go inside” the restaurant, witness Nur Yasin told AP.
Wednesday night’s blast largely destroyed the restaurant’s facade and sparked a fire. While al-Shabab claimed to have attacked the neighboring 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-Shabab 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-Shabab 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.
— Ismael Mukhtar Omar (@imukhtaar) June 15, 2017
The extremist group also faces a new military push from the United States after President Donald Trump approved expanded operations, including airstrikes, against al-Shabab. On Sunday, the U.S. military in Africa said it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp.
Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed confirmed that 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, AMISOM, which has been supporting the fragile central government, plans to start withdrawing in 2018 and leave by the end of 2020.
Also Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the U.N. political mission in the Horn of Africa nation, which is trying to rebuild after more than two decades as a failed state, until March 31, 2018. The resolution recognized that “this is a critical moment for Somalia.”
Kansas bomb plot trial drawing to a close as testimony ends
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The trial of three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali refugees in western Kansas is drawing to a close after weeks of testimony.
All sides have rested in the federal case against Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright also faces a charge of lying to the FBI. The judge dismissed two weapons-related charges against Stein.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren plans a hearing on Monday to hash out the final jury instructions. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. The jury trial began March 20.
The three men were indicted in October 2016 on charges they planned set off bombs the day after the Presidential election.
In Somalia, Al Shabab Is Stronger Now Than in Years
During the morning of April 1, 2018, a car drove up to an Ugandan army base in Bulamarer, Somalia, and blew up — the beginning of an Al Shabaab attack that, in combination with another suicide attack on a convoy of reinforcements, left at least 46 Ugandan soldiers dead.
The radical Islamist group has carried out many such attacks in recent months, which has put increased pressure on the Somali government and the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, which numbers some 22,000 troops from Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Burundi. In February, at least 18 people died in Mogadishu, the capital, in twin car bombings.
A recent analysis by Christopher Anzalone, a Ph.D. candidate of Islamic Studies at McGill University, concludes that the militant and terror group is possibly — now — in one of its strongest positions in years given its increasing willingness to launch bolder attacks while penetrating into Mogadishu with bombings and assassinations. Anzalone’s article is available at CTC Sentinel, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point’s monthly journal.
Al Shabab also has a cohesive and adaptable organization with dedicated military, governing and intelligence structures capable of rooting out spies, launching company-sized infantry operations and governing its limited territory.
U.S. air strikes — numbering more than 40 since 2016 — and commando raids, while successful in killing Al Shabab militants, may have also increased opposition to the Somali government, the U.S. military and the African Union in a country marked by local divisions characterized by tribal loyalties.
Case in point, in August 2017, a firefight between a joint U.S.-Somali force and Al Shabab reportedly resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians including children during a raid in Bariire. The U.S. military denied it killed any civilians in the raid. The Daily Beast later reported that U.S. commandos fired on unarmed civilians, and placed weapons seized during the raid next to the bodies of slain civilians before photographing them.
“Different parts of the government’s security forces … rely on the control of lucrative checkpoints and the fees and bribes they can charge civilians,” Anzalone writes, “and they have engaged in gun battles over these checkpoints and regular protests decrying the government’s failure to pay them.”
Somalia lacks a true national army, which is more akin to a coalition of local tribal forces. The Somali government’s own pronouncements of Al Shabab’s failings cannot be taken at face value, according to Tricia Bacon writing separately for War on the Rocks. “There are questions about the reported surge in defections, with well-connected sources privately telling me that the Somali security services are hyping this trend to stoke dissension within Al Shabab,” Bacon writes.
U.S. air strikes and ground raids have not, at the least, stopped Al Shabaab.
“While airstrikes have taken a significant toll on al-Shabaab, including the targeted killings of senior leaders and administrators,” Anzalone adds, “and despite claims made in late January by a senior African Union official that drone attacks were ‘wiping out Al Shabab in good numbers’ the insurgents continued throughout 2017 to be able to assemble large forces of fighters and launch major attacks on AMISOM and Somali government bases.”
Fortunately, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Somalia, primarily base in Puntland, is small and appears disorganized compared to Al Shabab — which emerged out of the Islamic Courts Union and which controlled Mogadishu for a brief period in 2006.
To defeat both groups, however, the Somali government will need to substantially improve its own armed forces — marred as they are with corruption — along with the political and economic relationship with the country’s states.
Shabab says it killed Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia
NYTIMES — NAIROBI, Kenya — Islamist militants in Somalia carried out multiple coordinated attacks against African Union peacekeeping forces on Sunday, and claimed to have killed at least 59 Ugandan soldiers.
Ceaser Olweny, a spokesman for the Ugandan peacekeepers, said four soldiers had been killed, and six wounded.
The Shabab, a Somali terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, made the attacks on three military bases and two Somali government outposts in the Lower Shabelle region, a Shabab stronghold near Mogadishu, the country’s capital.
Mr. Olweny said the attacks were coordinated.
Somali officials confirmed the attacks to the local news media.
“The number of casualties, and whether or not the dead were combatants, is used by all sides for propaganda and political objectives,” Abukar Arman, an analyst and former Somalia special envoy to the United States, said from Columbus, Ohio.
The attacks began on Sunday morning when two car bombs exploded outside the African Union base in the town of Bulo Mareer, 100 miles southwest of Mogadishu, according to Abdifatah Haji Abdulle, the deputy commissioner of Lower Shabelle.
The car bombs destroyed one African Union vehicle and one Somali government vehicle, according to Maj. Farah Osman of the Somali Army, who is stationed near the base.
“Then a large number of Al Shabab fighters began firing from under the trees,” Mr. Osman told Reuters. “It was a hellish battle.”
The Shabab claimed to have killed dozens of peacekeepers in the hourslong firefight, but the group is known to exaggerate such figures.
Mr. Olweny said soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping mission, known as Amisom, had killed 30 Shabab militants during the attacks. The Shabab said only 14 of its members had died.
Amisom has steadily pushed the Shabab out of major towns, but the group controls large sections of rural territory. It frequently targets Amisom bases and Somali government institutions — attacks that have intensified recently, even as American strikes against the group have increased.
The United States Africa Command, which cooperates with Somalia’s national military and security agencies, carried out nearly three dozen drone strikes against the Shabab last year.
The Amisom peacekeeping force was first deployed in Somalia in 2007. More than 20,000 soldiers and police officers from six countries serve in the mission, including more than 6,000 from Uganda.
The African Union plans to gradually withdraw its troops from the country and to hand over security operations to the Somali Army by 2020.
Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.