Somali officials say security forces have killed the gunmen who attacked a popular Mogadishu hotel, bringing the death toll from the assault to 24.
Security Minister Abdirisak Omar Mohamed tells VOA’s Somali Service that security forces killed the three gunmen during a shootout in the Ambassador Hotel Thursday morning, and rescued 57 hostages the attackers had held overnight.
The attack began late Wednesday afternoon with a car bomb blast outside the hotel that killed a fourth attacker. Afterward, gunmen went floor to floor in the hotel, opening fire on hotel guests.
Omar says at least 17 people — 12 civilians, three security guards and two members of parliament — were killed in or around the hotel. The director of Mogadishu's Madina Hospital said three other shooting victims brought to the hospital died of their wounds.
The Somali militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted the hotel because it is used by Somali government officials. The hotel sits on the city’s strategic Maka-al-Mukarama road, near the presidential palace.
Al-Shabab has carried out similar assaults on hotels in the past. An attack on the Sahafi Hotel last November killed at least 12 people, while an attack on the Maka-al-Mukarama Hotel in March 2015 killed at least 20.
Al-Shabab commander killed
Wednesday's attack came just hours after Somali officials announced a top al-Shabab commander had been killed in southern Somalia. Mohamed Mohamud, better known as Dulyadeyn, allegedly masterminded the April 2015 attack on Kenya's Garissa University College that left 148 people dead, nearly all of them students.
A U.S. military spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza, said Thursday that the U.S. is working with Somali officials to assess the results of the operation.
She said the ground operation was carried out by the Somali National Army, with the U.S. playing an "advise and assist" role.
A U.S. official tells VOA that the American advisors were "at a different location, at a safe location" during the early Wednesday morning raid.
A small number of U.S. military personnel are in Somalia, helping the government and the African Union force known as AMISOM combat al-Shabab.
The Pentagon Wednesday reported an airstrike in south-central Somalia on May 27 that targeted Abdullahi Haji Daud, a senior al-Shabab military commander and attack planner. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the U.S. is still assessing the results of that attack.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.