By the end of the afternoon, at least seven people, including all three assailants, were dead outside the hotel, their bodies torn by bullets or explosives. Inside the hotel, any illusions that a peaceful Somalia was emerging from two decades of chaos and lawlessness were shattered.
“They want to destroy our hope,” said Mohammed Maie, a Foreign Ministry official who had arrived from Canada last year to help his country. “Anything can happen. These people, they are everywhere.”
Inside the hotel compound, a Washington Post reporter witnessed a soldier shoot one of the attackers several times as he tried to make his way inside the building. His explosives did not detonate.
The blood-soaked body of a security guard lay nearby. Three other bodies, including that of a soldier from the African Union, the U.S.-backed force mandated to protect Somalia’s government, could be seen outside the gate. Three other A.U. troops were injured, the force said in a statement.
On the street was the leg of what appeared to be one of the suicide bombers. He wore jeans and white sneakers. A severed head, presumably that of the attacker, lay a few feet away. Blood and flesh splattered military vehicles and walls.
The Islamist challenge
Somalia has been consumed by war and lawlessness since 1991, when the central government of President Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed. Two years later, mobs dragged the bodies of U.S. soldiers through Mogadishu during a U.N. peacekeeping mission, an event later depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”
Mohamud, 56, an academic and civic activist, was elected Monday by Somali lawmakers in the war-torn nation’s first presidential vote of its kind in decades. Now, he was face to face with the country’s biggest security challenge — a hard-line Islamist militia still willing to dispatch its fighters to die, even as it has been pushed out of the capital and other parts of this Horn of Africa nation.
Somalia’s neighbors, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, have dispatched their military forces to quell the Islamist extremists, who have shown a determination to spread their insurgency in the region. In 2010, al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, orchestrated attacks in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people watching the World Cup soccer finals. The militia has also been implicated in grenade attacks in Kenya.
Chaos at Mogadishu hotel
The Jazeera Palace is nestled in one of the most secure areas of Mogadishu, less than a mile from the heavily fortified A.U. base and international airport, and near the U.N. compound. On Wednesday, dozens of A.U. and Somali troops were protecting the hotel. Armored military vehicles were parked outside, topped with heavy machine guns.