Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Tuesday pledged “an all-out war” to eliminate Al-Shabaab in his first statement to the nation since the jihadists staged a deadly 30-hour hotel siege in Mogadishu.
The attack, which began on Friday night, was the biggest to hit Somalia’s capital since Mohamud took office in June and underscored the challenge of trying to crush the 15-year insurgency by the Al-Qaeda-linked group.
At least 21 people died and 117 others were wounded in the gun and bomb attack targeting the popular Hayat Hotel, with the fatalities including Norwegian citizens, according to Norway’s government.
“I know that the Somali people are fed up with the endless condolences and mourning, I know that you lose respectable people in every attack carried out by the terrorists,” Mohamud said.
“So I call upon you to be prepared for an all-out war against the ruthless (people) who are hostile to our peace,” he said in a statement released by the presidency.
“We are determined to weaken the terrorists who destroy our people till all the areas they control are liberated, this is a priority for our government and the preparation and implementation of that plan is ongoing,” he said, without elaborating.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mohamud convened a national security committee meeting attended by the prime minister, interior minister and the foreign minister, as well as the country’s defence chiefs.
– ‘Never surrender’ –
In a televised speech later in the evening, Mohamud told citizens to have no doubt that “Somalia will defeat the enemy that is oppressing its country, people and religion.”
“Our government, army and people will never surrender until we have a Somalia that is free from terrorists,” he said.
The Hayat was a favoured meeting spot for government officials and scores of people were inside when a suicide bomber triggered a massive blast, enabling heavily armed gunmen to enter the hotel.
Minutes later, a second explosion struck as rescuers, security forces and civilians rushed to help the injured, witnesses said.
The siege only ended at around midnight Saturday after security forces bombarded the building, leaving much of it in ruins.
Somalia’s allies, including the United States, Britain, the European Union and Turkey, as well as the United Nations, strongly condemned the attack, as did ATMIS, the African Union force tasked with helping Somali forces take over primary responsibility for security by the end of 2024.
Earlier this month, Washington said its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabaab operatives in an air raid, the latest strike since President Joe Biden in May ordered the re-establishment of a US troop presence in Somalia, reversing a decision by Donald Trump.
Mohamud, who was elected in May after a protracted political crisis, said last month that ending the insurgency required more than a military approach, but that his government would negotiate with Al-Shabaab only when the time was right.
The group has carried out several attacks in the mainly Muslim country since his election.
Last month it also mounted an incursion into neighbouring Ethiopia and raided a military base on the border.
The Islamist militants, who espouse a strict version of sharia or Islamic law, were driven out of Mogadishu by an African Union force in 2011.
But they still control swathes of countryside and retain the ability to launch deadly strikes, often hitting hotels and restaurants as well as military and political targets.