Hotel Sahafi attack: Al-Shabaab Books In, Again
Luxury furniture, indoor swimming pools and all you can eat buffets are some of the common descriptions of hotels around the world. It’s a place of comfort, leisure and best of all, room service. In Somalia however, there is another very unique feature not found even in the Hilton, Sheraton or the classiest of hotels; that is car bombs and protracted gun battles, and unfortunately Hotel Sahafi has become the latest participant to host such “breathtaking” events in Mogadishu.
Preceded by the brazen noon attack on Central Hotel earlier this year and followed by the devastating explosion which dismantled Hotel Jazeera four months ago, Hotel Sahafi is now the latest establishment to be targeted in Mogadishu this year following a trend of attacks against hotels. Now although violence comes as no surprise to the streets of Somalia, what is striking about Sunday morning’s siege is the similarities it shares with past attacks and the inability of the Federal Government to learn from this pattern and discern the links and motives behind such attacks.
Al-Shabaab’s attraction to hotels is unlikely to stem from their innate hatred towards hotels for the sole fact that they are hotels, but more importantly who these hotels accommodate. Al-Shabaab has been quite explicit in targeting government officials and all foreign entities whether they be at home, the office or sipping a cup of tea in the lobby of a hotel. That being the case, part of the blame is shouldered by the Federal Government and their officials who have allowed these private establishments to be transformed into hubs of politics, homes for politicians and consequently targets for Al-Shabaab. And since we know that Al-Shabaab does not differentiate between government officials in military uniform or otherwise it is extremely unwise and thoughtless for them to jeopardize the lives and property of citizens by pertaining to matters of policy in such open establishments.
In my opinion, the underlying issue in all this is not a matter of security as stated by the Somali President but more specifically a matter of insecurity. Despite the repeated reassurances from government officials emphasizing the improved safety of the Somali capital Mogadishu, Sundays’ early morning attack at Hotel Sahafi once again raises questions of just how competent the Federal Governments security apparatus is in protecting itself and its citizens. One of the most basic of these questions is how did a handful of fighters manage to take siege of a compound directly across the Criminal Investigation Department for five hours? Despite the narratives of the President which describe peace and stability in the capital, Al-Shabaab’s audacity and ability to continuously penetrate the most secure areas of the city paints a totally different picture.
What is true however is that the security presence in Mogadishu is strongly visible in the form of road blockades, random night raids and mass arrests. Just how effective measures such as these are is another matter of dispute and many would argue that Sunday’s attack is the clearest indicator of its futility. In the meanwhile, I guess the best decision is to hope for the best and continue waiting for the Ministry of National Security’s investigative report as they try to piece together the clues of how security was breached, again.
By Zakaria Abdalla
Pretoria, South Africa