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Families grieve loss of loved ones in Somalia hotel attack

Somalia   -  
Copyright © africanews
HASSAN ALI ELMI/AFP or licensors -

Somalia

At sunset on Friday last week in Somalia's capital an evening at a hotel turned to bloodshed, after an extremist group killed 21 people over the course of a 35-hour siege.

The patrons of the Hayat hotel had just finished their prayers and settled in for coffee, tea or dinner.

There were families, businesspeople, government workers, people who saw profit and promise in a country rebuilding from decades of war.

Hotels are refuges in Somalia, but targets, too.

The al-Shabab extremist group, affiliated with al-Qaida, for years carried out complex attacks on them.

The group tends to start with explosions, then hold out for hours as a handful of fighters exchange gunfire with security forces until a bloody morning end.

This time, about 35 hours passed while the Hayat was under siege - the longest such attack in Somalia's history.

Standing in the rubble of his hotel still marked with blood and flesh a few days later, owner Abdulkadir Mohamud Nur could barely contemplate more death.

The 60-year-old was overwhelmed as he recounted his helplessness at being a short walk from the hotel for prayers when the attack began.

Calls quickly flooded his phone.

A suicide bombed had detonated at a side gate, callers said, and gunmen overran security forces and shot at everyone they found.

Horrified Somalis then watched as 21 people at the Hayat were killed and some dismembered, their remains published by al-Shabab in propaganda videos.

It was chaos.

One survivor, Ibrahim Bashir Ali, joined frantic hotel patrons trying to hide in the hall where afternoon coffee had been served.

Amid the gunfire, he saw the attackers wearing "battle fatigues" - al-Shabab fighters at times disguise themselves in security uniforms.

"There were hand grenades that terrified everyone," Ali said.

He broke two windows and leapt out the second to escape, injuring himself along the way.

Nur, the hotel owner, immediately thought of his two brothers, Abdirahman and Shuaib, who had come to have lunch with him and afternoon tea.

They were still inside, but he dared not call them for fear of attacting the attention of the attackers.

It was wisdom drawn from years of watching al-Shabab attacks on the capital.

Later, Nur learned from hotel colleagues that Abdirahman had been killed near the reception area while looking for a place to hide.

On the second day of the attack, he found Shuaib's body himself.

"We have to trust the fate of God, even if it is unbearable," Nur said, his face pressed with grief.

The long time it took for Somali security forces to end the siege has been questioned and criticized.

At first, a paramilitary force trained by Turkey deployed to the hotel but was repulsed by the attackers.

Then, a group trained by U.S. forces deployed and managed to start rescuing survivors on the ground floor while containing the gunmen.

Narrow, busy streets slowed responders, witnesses said.

Somalia's Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, has said those who failed in their response to the attack will be punished.

Security forces did not comment.

The four-story hotel, in a highly fortified area near the international airport and government offices, has been left shattered.

Rebuilding, like everything else in today's global economy, would be expensive with the rising costs of construction materials.

And yet 67 employees depended on the hotel, and on its owner, a reminder of the fragility in Somalia that remains.

But last weekend's siege could be a turning point for the Horn of Africa nation.

In the days before the attack, new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud vowed an offensive against al-Shabab to dislodge it from the large sections of Somalia it has controlled for years.

In a national address this week, he spoke with new determination.

Al-Shabab "is like a deadly snake in your clothes," he said. "There is no solution other than to kill it before it kills you."

***AP***

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