14 October 2017, Massive explosion demolishes 20 buildings in Mogadishu, including the Safari Hotel

18 October, 2017 Hotel Attacks

On 14 October 2017, terrorists detonated at least one massive truck bomb – the New York Times says two truck bombs – in front of the Safari Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, killing 267 and wounding 300, reports NBC News and the Associated Press. The Independent says an ambulance driver in Mogadishu calculated that the death toll is over 300. The Voice of America reports 302 killed, and 429 wounded. These numbers are expected to rise. It is reportedly Somalia’s most deadly terror attack.

It is not known what type of explosive was used, but the New York Times says that the attackers drove two bomb-laden trucks through multiple checkpoints and into the city where they detonated.

No group has claimed responsibility, though al Shabaab is the main suspect, say Somali intelligence officials. Al Shabaab has waged a terrorist war against the government and people of Somalia since 2006, and one of its specialties is hotel attacks. For examples, see Muir Analytics analyses here and here.

David Anderson, professor of African politics at Warwick University in the UK, told the NYT that the Somali government and military was riddled with al Shabaab spies, one of the reasons that the truck bombs probably made it through security checkpoints.

Mukhtar Robow, one of al-Shabaab’s founders and its former second in command, says his ex-colleagues were responsible for the blast. He recently left al Shabaab and joined the government. Robow said of the attack: “Those who are behind this, whose fingerprints are on this, must refrain from shedding the blood of Muslims and repent. You are not going to go to paradise by killing innocents. People who are doing this must stop… I mean al-Shabab.”

The main target of the bomb is not yet known, but the seat of the blast appears to have been in front of the hotel and in Mogadishu’s busy K5 intersection. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is just down the street from this intersection, and scores of shops, restaurants, and banks dot this area as well. Qatar’s diplomatic mission was caught in the blast, too. The hotel and some 20 nearby buildings were leveled or reduced to collapsed rubble. Initial photographic analysis of the debris field shows a blast area of approximately 300 by 300 yards. The bombs, then, likely contained over 100 pounds of explosives. If it was a low yield type explosive, the devices might have weighed well over 300 pounds.

Hundreds of civilians protested the bombing the next day, loudly condemning al Shabaab.

Preceding the bombing, there was a series of al Shabaab attacks in Somalia and Kenya. In Kenya, al Shabaab attacked a school. During the bombing, al Shabaab took over Bariire town, 20 miles due west from Mogadishu.

Additionally, Defense Minister Abdirashid Abdullahi and Army Chief Ahmed Mohamed Jimale Irfid both resigned just three days before the attack, plus the head of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) had just visited the Somali government, reaffirming its pledge to help it fight al Shabaab. It is not clear if any of these issues are related, but Ludger Schadomsky, Somalia subject matter expert and head of Deutsche Welle’s Amharic service, believes that they are. In particular, he says that the AFRICOM visit was most likely the catalyst behind the bombing.

There are no significant takeaways so far, and the technicalities of the bomb – exact size/weight, delivery vehicle(s), explosive compound, etc. – have yet to be released. Al Shabaab has also yet to issue a claim of responsibility, as is common, and which usually comes with a justification for an attack.

What is clear, however, is that despite Somali, African Union, and U.S. efforts to reduce al Shabaab, this organization has remained resilient and deadly. Its ability to stage major terror attacks in Mogadishu and other population areas remains high, and this bombing might represent a major escalation of al Shabaab’s war in East Africa. Details on the device and a proclamation justifying the attack will help develop a deeper analysis.

Sources and further reading:

Opinion: Horrific Somalia bombing is sign of government’s powerlessness,” Deutsche Welle, 16 October 2017.

Somalia Blasts Expose Security Failings and Possible Shabab Infiltration,” New York Times, 16 October 2017.

Somalia attack: Death toll from Mogadishu twin truck bombing rises to more than 300 people,” The Independent, 16 October 2017.

Mogadishu Blast Toll Tops 300,” Voice of America, 16 October 2017.

Hope fades as Mogadishu residents seek missing loved ones,” Daily Mail, 16 October 2017.

Bomb Attack in Mogadishu Kills 276, Somali Minister Says,” NBC News, 15 October 2017.

Huge blast rocks Somalia’s capital; police say 20 killed,” Daily Mail, 14 October 2017.

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