NAIROBI, Kenya — Somali insurgents dressed as police officers stormed a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday morning and opened fire, killing at least 33 people, including 6 lawmakers, in one of the deadliest attacks in months, Somali officials said. The assault ended when the attackers killed themselves.
As the attack unfolded, government forces rushed to the three-story hotel and engaged in a fierce room-by-room battle, pushing the gunmen to the upper floor. According to witnesses, several lawmakers tried to lock themselves in their rooms, but they were methodically hunted down.
Gunmen also bolted themselves in hotel rooms and were seen shooting out the windows.
“They killed everyone they saw inside the hotel and then blew themselves up,” said Abdirahman Omar Osman, Somalia’s information minister. Early reports that one of the attackers was a woman proved unfounded.
The hotel attack seems to be part of a bigger offensive that insurgents opened Monday against government forces, and shows that the insurgents have figured out how to infiltrate nearly every inch of Mogadishu, even parts of the city that the government claims it firmly controls. Dozens of people have been killed during the past few days in street battles and mortar barrages that sent shells crashing into civilian neighborhoods and camps for internally displaced people.
“There’s been fierce fighting and the government is getting pushed back,” said Abdirizak Farah, a shopkeeper who fled his home at 4 a.m. Tuesday to seek shelter closer to government troops.
Somalia’s transitional government, which controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu, the capital, said that the insurgents’ attack during the holy month of Ramadan is “against Islamic religion,” and the government is calling on all Somalis to fight back.
The hotel that was attacked, called the Muna, is located in the seaside Hamar Weyne neighborhood, not far from the presidential palace. According to one Somali official in Nairobi, the attack started when five to eight insurgents “disguised as police officers went in and started killing everybody.”
“They are using all tactics,” said the Somali official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “They don’t care about Ramadan. They are criminals. They are terrorists.”
An 11-year-old shoeshine boy and a woman selling tea in front of the hotel gates were also killed, according to African Union officials. It seems the hotel raid had been planned well in advance, and several residents of Hamar Weyne said that Shabab fighters had been renting rooms for weeks in their neighborhood, leading them to expect a major attack.
A Shabab spokesman on Tuesday said that Shabab "special forces" were the ones who stormed the hotel.
The last time the government was dealt such a deadly blow was in December, when the Shabab killed four government ministers in a suicide bombing at a medical school graduation in another hotel in the government zone.
Somalia has lurched from crisis to crisis since 1991, when the central government collapsed.
Though Somalia’s transitional government receives millions of dollars and weapons from the United States and other Western powers, it has been unable to repulse Islamist insurgents who now control much of the country.
Somali officials concede that if it were not for 6,000 or more African Union peacekeepers in the capital, the transitional government would fall, most likely in hours.