Somali militants detonated a car bomb at a hotel in the capital, killing at least 12 people including a Chinese national and damaging China’s embassy.
The al-Qaeda-linked Islamist-militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Sunday afternoon attack on the Jazeera Palace Hotel near Mogadishu’s airport, frequented by government officials and aid workers.
The attack “reminds us that terrorist groups like al-Shabaab offer nothing but death and destruction and have to be stopped,” U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters Monday in neighboring Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
The bombing came as Obama was leaving Kenya for Ethiopia on the second leg of an East African tour that includes discussions on the regional threat from groups such as al-Shabaab. While African Union forces and the Somali army have dislodged the militants from large tracts of territory, al-Shabaab has proven capable of repeatedly striking the heart of the capital city.
Mohamed Said, a police officer who witnessed Sunday’s blast, said by phone that he’d counted the bodies. Mogadishu’s Medina hospital treated 20 of the injured, according to Fadum Salah, a nurse at the facility.
A Chinese Embassy employee was among the dead, while the country’s diplomatic offices, which are in the hotel building, sustained damages, the state-run Xinhua news agency said on Monday. China’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack.
The U.S.’s coordination with African troops, including from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, has been “very efficient” and is partly responsible for the Somali government’s territorial gains, Obama said on Monday. He called the partnership a “model” for counterinsurgency operations, with the U.S. working with other countries that provide “outstanding troops on the ground.”
Since last year several drone strikes in Somalia, some carried out by the U.S., have killed senior al-Shabaab officials, including former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and intelligence chief Abdishakur Tahliil.
Regaining control of Somalia, wracked by more than two decades of civil war, is crucial to the government’s plan of inviting foreign investors to kickstart the economy. Oil and gas output may begin by 2020 after exploration work showed the potential for large offshore deposits, while companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc are in talks about returning.
Sunday’s hotel bombing was “an attack on a symbol” that “Mogadishu is being rejuvenated, that the city is back in business,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud said at a ceremony in the southern port city of Kismayo, according to an e-mailed statement. The offensive to regain control of “the few remaining pockets of terrorist influence” has “obviously unnerved these gangsters and conmen,” he said.
African forces last week recaptured two key southwestern Somali towns from the Islamists.