Islamist extremists blew up the gate of a Somali hotel with a car bomb and took over the building for more than 14 hours in an attack that left 26 people dead. The victims included a prominent Canadian-Somali journalist.
At least four al-Shabab assailants stormed the Asasey Hotel on Friday night (July 12) and it was more than 14 hours before troops ended the siege, Col. Abdiqadir Nur, a local police officer, told The Associated Press.
Three Kenyans, three Tanzanians, two Americans and a Briton also were among the dead, 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.
The dead included a presidential candidate for August's Jubbaland regional elections, Madobe said.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia's weak, U.N.-backed government, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Four militants attacked the hotel. One of them was the suicide car bomber, two were shot dead and one was captured alive by Jubbaland security forces," Madobe said. Earlier, police said all the attackers were killed.
Kismayo is the commercial capital of Jubbaland, a region still partly controlled by al Shabaab, whose fighters frequently carry out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of an African Union peacekeeping force.
Britain's foreign ministry said it was in touch with local authorities for information about the Kismayo attack. A U.S. State Department official confirmed that at least one U.S. citizen was among the dead.
Kismayo resident Osman Nur told Reuters the explosion destroyed parts of the hotel and nearby businesses and security forces were deployed across the city. TV footage showed walls peppered with bullet holes and furniture strewn across the hotel courtyard.
Halima Nur, a mother of four, said by phone that her nephew who worked at the hotel was killed. "I got his dead body this morning and have just buried him," she said. "And this afternoon I will attend the burial of other relatives."
The Somalia office of the U.N. International Organisation for Migration said local staff member Abdifatah Mohamed was killed. SADO Somalia, a local non-governmental organisation, said its executive director Abdullahi Isse Abdulle had died.
Two journalists were among the dead: Somali-Canadian Hodan Naleyah, the founder of Integration TV, and Mohamed Sahal Omar, a reporter for SBC TV in Kismayo, while Naleyah's husband Jama Fariid was also killed, the Jubbaland president said.
"Through her work as a journalist, Hodan highlighted the community's positive stories and contributions in Canada. She became a voice for many. We mourn her loss deeply, and all others killed in the #KismayoAttack," Ahmed Hussen, Canada's immigration minister, wrote on Twitter.
Al Shabaab was forced out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds.
It was driven out of Kismayo in 2012 by Kenyan forces in support of a regional militia headed by Madobe. The city's port had been a major source of revenue for the Islamists from taxes, charcoal exports and levies on arms and other illegal imports.