Mogadishu hotel attack highlights Al-Shabaab tactical flexibility

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Key Points

  • Somali militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab attacked the SYL hotel in Mogadishu on 10 December, killing at least five people.
  • The attack was notable for the absence of the use of an initial suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) to breach the defensive perimeter, instead utilising gunmen disguised in police uniforms to attack police guarding the hotel before forcing entry into the building.
  • This change in operational methods was likely undertaken to counteract new physical security measures put in place around hotels and other such facilities frequented by government officials, underlining the group’s tactical flexibility.

Al-Qaeda’s East African affiliate, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, conducted a small-arms assault targeting a hotel close to the presidential palace in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on 10 December, leading to a six-hour siege in which three civilians and two soldiers were killed, and 11 people wounded.

The attack began at approximately 18:40 local time, when five heavily armed gunmen wearing police uniforms approached the Somali Youth League (SYL) hotel – which is regularly frequented by government officials – and opened fire on the police officers guarding the building. Soldiers manning nearby checkpoints at the entrance to the Villa Somalia presidential compound immediately returned fire, killing at least two of the militants, but the remainder were able to enter the hotel, where they held out until the last of them was killed shortly after 01:00 the following morning.

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