The most recent in a string of attacks in Somalia has finally come to a close.
The bloody incident began on Saturday afternoon when the driver of a truck laden with explosives stopped outside the Nasa-Hablod hotel in Mogadishu near the presidential palace, under the guise of experiencing engine trouble. The driver detonated his payload shortly after coming to a halt. The large explosion reportedly devastated the hotel and nearby buildings, although luckily did not completely demolish structures.
The blast at the hotel preceded two other explosions, one occurring at the nearby former Parliament building, and the other in the form of a bomber wearing a suicide vest, also targeting the hotel.
A day long battle then ensued in and around the hotel complex between five additional attackers and Somali security forces. The gunmen were able to hold off the Somali military for several hours by barricading themselves on the top floor of the hotel. By Sunday morning, media had begun reporting that all attackers had been neutralized, finally bringing an end to the carnage. In all, 23 people were killed in the coordinated attacks. The Al Qaida affiliated Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.
In addition to the damage and loss of life in the incident itself, Saturday’s attack sends an ominous message for the future of the country, the Horn of Africa, and perhaps the whole continent.
Somalia has been experiencing an increasing number of militant attacks as of late. Nearly two weeks ago, a massive car bomb in the center of Mogadishu killed some 276 people, and injured several hundred more, in one of the worst terror attacks in recent history. This was preceded by another similar explosive attack targeting a bus station that took place on September 28th. Both of these attacks have also been attributed to Al-Shabaab.
This seemingly unabated ability that Al-Shabaab has to plan and execute attacks, demonstrates just how firmly entrenched the group’s infrastructure is in Somalia. The volume and quality of the weapons they use to carry out attacks suggest a high level of competence and sophistication. The bomb used in the October attack for instance consisted of several hundred kilograms of military grade explosives. The fact that the gunmen in the most recent incident were able to hold off military personnel for nearly an entire day shows that the militants possess a high level of tactical prowess, or at least enough to effectively engage the government forces they’re up against.
A weak country governmentally and economically, and therefore a long time target of Islamist groups, Somalia’s security situation has been propped up by a military coalition known as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). A central part of the mission’s mandate, which includes humanitarian and infrastructural elements as well, is to prepare Somalia for independence on all levels of self-governance, which includes the ability to defend itself from encroaching jihadist groups. AMISOM is scheduled to depart from the country in 2020. With the increasing rate of these Al-Shabaab attacks, the major question on the broader African community’s mind is: Can Somalia be ready by then?
The answer to this question has many more implications than just the future of the one country. With the continued strengthening of jihadist groups in Africa - now a topic on everyone’s mind in wake of the Niger incident - a weak Somalia could mean an important and strategic foothold opportunity, not just for Al-Shabaab, but for other militant groups as well.