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The Latest: Death toll rises to 31 as overnight siege ends

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Latest on deadly attack on restaurant in Somalia’s capital (all times local):

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5:05 p.m.

The United States is condemning the overnight attack on a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital that police say left at least 31 people dead.

A statement Thursday by the U.S. mission to Somalia says many of the victims had been breaking their daily Ramadan fast when the attack began Wednesday night.

The statement says the Muslim holy month of Ramadan “is a time of spiritual reflection and increased piety, which makes the timing of this attack all the more atrocious.”

The statement calls the attack by extremist group al-Shabab “barbaric.”

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4:15 p.m.

Somalia’s president has condemned the overnight siege of a popular restaurant in the capital that police say killed at least 31 people. The extremist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility.

A Somali government statement says President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called the victims “martyrs” and noted that the attack came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The president notes that the attackers targeted a place frequented by teens and young adults.

Mohamed has repeatedly vowed to defeat al-Shabab within two years, but security remains a major challenge in the long-chaotic country.

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2:40 p.m.

Police say the death toll in an overnight attack by al-Shabab extremists on a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital has risen to 31.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein says many of the victims were killed at point-blank range after the attackers hunted them down.

Police say nearly 40 people were wounded in the assault that began when a car bomb exploded outside the Pizza House restaurant in Mogadishu.

Security forces ended the siege Thursday morning after the extremist snipers fired on them. Hussein says all five attackers were killed.

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7:55 a.m.

Fighting continued through the night as Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic extremists fought off heavily armed soldiers in a bloody siege at a popular Mogadishu restaurant.

Extremist snipers fired on security troops who surrounded the restaurant building and used big guns mounted on the backs of vehicles to neutralize militants. Soldiers entered the ground floor while the insurgent attackers held positions upstairs.

Senior Somali police office Capt. Mohamed Hussein said at dawn Thursday that at least one attacker was firing on troops from inside the restaurant.

The roofs were blown off the Pizza House restaurant and nearby buildings from the powerful blasts.

High casualties are feared in the attack on the busy restaurant. Police said the bodies of five girls thought to have been killed by militants were found in the restaurant.

 

Briefing Room

Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies

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AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.

Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.

One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.

“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.

A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.

The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.

“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.

The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.

“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.

In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.

Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.

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Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens

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BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.

The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.

Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.

The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.

Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.

“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.

Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.

SUSPICION, RESENTMENT

The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.

That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.

Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.

One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.

The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.

The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.

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Puntland President calls UAE continue its mission in Somalia

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