The death toll from Sunday’s assault on a hotel in Somalia’s capital has risen to 15, with at least 20 others injured, according to a police spokesman and medical officials in Mogadishu.
The dead include four assailants in addition to 11 victims, say security officials.
The militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
A well-known top retired general, Mohamed Nur Galal, and young couples on their honeymoon were among those killed.
“The newly married young couples came from abroad and they were having their honeymoon time at the hotel. We were told around 3:00 am local time on Monday that their dead bodies were found inside their hotel room,” said Farah Abdirahman, the uncle of one of the women killed.
The attack at one of Mogadishu’s popular hotels, the Afrik Hotel, began with a car bomb explosion and then al-Shabab gunmen dressed in Somali military uniforms stormed the building.
The four al-Shabab assailants died during an operation in which the security forces tried to flush the militants out of the building, police spokesman Sadiq Aden Ali told reporters.
Three of the militant gunmen were shot by the police and one blew himself up, survivors and witnesses at the scene told VOA Somali.
Security forces were able to rescue dozens of people from the hotel during the siege.
Among the survivors was a VOA reporter, Abdikafi Yusuf Aden, who was inside the hotel when the militants stormed.
“There was confusion and thick smoke rose up after the blast occurred. People were jumping down over the wall as we ran for our lives,” Aden said.
Footage circulated on social media showed hotel residents including women jumping from the windows to escape the attack.
Around midnight Sunday Somalia’s government announced its security forces ended the seven-hour siege.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and the country’s prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble have both condemned the attack.
In a statement on Monday, James Swan, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Somalia, also denounced the attack.
“We are appalled by this reprehensible and senseless attack on a venue frequented by innocent civilians, and condemn it in the strongest terms,” he said.
Heavily guarded area
The hotel, which is known to be a gathering place for Somali government officials and people from diaspora is located along a strategic road linking downtown Mogadishu with the international airport.
Politicians, lawmakers, and senior civil servants often go to the hotel for coffee and political conversations.
Analysts question how the militants were able to target the hotel even though it is in a heavily guarded area.
“There has been a security alert before the attack. Therefore, the security forces and hotels were supposed to be very vigilant but that did not happen,” said former deputy of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency, Abdisalan Yusuf Guled.
“Most of the roads leading in and out of government officials and hotels have sealed with road blockage before for security reasons and to prevent al-Shabab attack, but it seems those measures did not help," Hussein Moalim Mohamud, Somalia’s former national security adviser told VOA Somali. "The government security officials have to respond how al-Shabab is still able to attack such a heavily guarded area.”
Former intelligence officer Colonel Abdullahi Ali Maow says the militants carry out such attacks when there is a security negligence and the country’s leaders get busy into political disputes.
“Al-Shabab always takes advantage of when the country’s leaders are busy with politics. And this time when there is a strong political dispute on the elections due to hold next month their aim is to show presence, and that they are still capable of attacking wherever they want in the city.”
Sunday’s attack comes as the country’s top leaders and the leaders of the regional states convene in Dusamareb, capital of the Galmudug regional state, for talks that will focus on a delay in the timetable of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections and solving political disputes that caused the delay.
The attack also comes just weeks after the U.S. said they completed withdrawal of some 700 U.S. troops who had supported the government’s fight against al-Shabab.
Falastin Iman in Washington and Hassan Qoyste in Mogadishu have contributed this report.