UPDATE: 6 killed as 'Shabaab' hit Mogadishu hotels; new strategy targeting Somalia and Kenya emerges

More than 500 people have been killed in attacks by Islamist militants in Kenya since a raid on a Nairobi mall in September 2013.

AL-SHABAAB militants set off car bombs outside two hotels in Somalia’s capital on Friday before clashing with security forces, leaving at least three people dead, according to local police officials.
The insurgents attacked the Wehliye hotel in central Mogadishu, where government officials often stay, police officer Mohamed Aden said.

Another assault took place at the Siad hotel near the presidential palace, said Ahmed Hussein, a police official. They struck in the evening when Muslims begin to break their fast in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

In all six people, at least three, and three militants, were killed in heavy fighting.

“The terrorists were killed… we have confirmed three civilians dead at Weheliye hotel and the thee attackers were killed too,” said government security official Mohamed Guhad. However, fighting continued in another nearby hotel, where gunmen launched a simultaneous attack, close to the presidential palace and fortified government district.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the gunmen are suspected to be members of the militant group al-Shabaab. The Islamic militants have stepped up their attacks during Islam’s holy fasting month of Ramadan, and the attack Friday came as people settled down to break their daylight fast. 

New strategy

The Shabaab is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-backed government which is propped up and protected by the 22,000-strong AMISOM force. These Shabaab attacks seek to counter claims that they are close to defeat after losing territory in the face of an AU and Somali government offensive and regular US drone strikes against their leaders and defections. However, they also seem to be part of a new strategy aimed to break the back of the AMISOM mission.

The militants have also carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries—including the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, which left at least 67 people dead.

In a series of attacks inside Somalia in recent days, they have camps manned by AMISOM troops, and overrun them forcing them - for the first time - to withdraw from two towns. In one such attack late June in the town of Lego, the militants claimed to have killed at 50 Burundian troops.

But it’s Kenya, of the AMISOM troop-contributing countries, that has seen the most sustained campaign from the al-Qaeda-linked group, suggesting they are treating it and Somalia as the a unified theatre of their war.

Al-Shabaab says the frequent attacks in Kenya are retaliation for its troop deployment in its country, but if it were also to continue raids inside Somalia as it is doing, it probably hopes the effectiveness of the AU mission will be called into question, weakening domestic support for involvement in the AMISOM-contributing countries. 

Already the increased insecurity has hurt Kenya’s key tourism industry as visitors cancel holidays. 

“I can confirm an al-Shabaab attack in Mandera early this morning,” Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet said on his Twitter account. 

“Regrettably 14 persons dead and 11 injured.” About 15 militants used improvised explosive devices to force open metal gates at two buildings where some 150 quarry and construction workers slept at 2 a.m. 

“It was a lightning attack,” said Alex ole Nkoyo, Mandera’s county commissioner. “They blew the gates and started shooting randomly.” 

Thirteen of those killed were migrant workers from Kenya’s central Nyeri and Meru regions, he said. The last victim, a female Muslim owner of the hostel where the men lived, was shot when she asked the attackers to stop killing innocent people. In past attacks in Kenya, the group has spared Muslims.

Sleeping men

Many of the men were sleeping on mats or mattress under the open sky because their dormitory rooms were hot and stuffy, ole Nkoyo said. 

“After the initial blast, the men woke up in a panic and ran to their rooms where they were shot,” he said. Another 11 people were injured in the Tuesday morning raid near Mandera’s Soko Mbuzi livestock market. 

It was possible the militants had crossed back into Somalia, the official said. Mandera is close to the border with Somalia, about 800 km (500 miles) northeast of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. 

Last December, the militants killed another 36 migrant quarry workers as they slept by their work place in Mandera. They spared Muslims. That incident came just weeks after fighters stopped a bus traveling in the same region and ordered non-Muslims to life face down before shooting 28 of them dead. 

More than 500 people have been killed in attacks by Islamist militants in Kenya since a raid on a Nairobi mall in September 2013, according to risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. In April, at least 147 people were killed in an attack on a university in Garissa in northeastern Kenya.

-Reporting  by AFP and Bloomberg.

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