It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, government functionaries were busy sending off an MP assassinated one day before and earlier in the day the president was officiating a military training commencement at the southern port town of Kismayo.
Then by 4:30 pm everything had changed once and forever, a huge explosion shook the entire city of 17 districts with residents as far as on the outskirts of the city feeling the devastating effect of the blast.
One Goobjoog journalist who was in Bakara market, some 4 KM from the blast site quoted residents the blast it must have happened in their backyard given the effects.
Ceilings for some houses were ripped off, windows shattered and roofs blown off. Everyone in the city of more than 2 million residents believed that the blast happened their next door.
Staff at Goobjoog FM couldn’t believe it was in Jazeera hotel given the fact station’s walls shook and ceiling boards dislodged.
It was panic as people dashed for cover, making this blast one of the most devastating ever.
There is no official number of the death toll and there was never accurate death toll in the past as the government habituated not to produce list of the dead and even sometimes down played the damage done.
In a press conference the interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Yussuf he said “Security forces have aborted terror attack on Jazeera hotel, only 5 civilians were killed”.
Goobjoog has spoken to one ambulance operator Khalif Dahir Mohamed who said that he alone had carried 13 bodies and 21 injured. There were other ambulances ferrying dead and injuries.
Hospital officials put the injured in the region of 30 people and the death toll could rise
Dr. Mohamed Yussuf the Madina hospital manager told one broadcaster that there were 25 injured, but 4 of them succumbed to the injuries. There is no word from other hospitals treating injured, including the AMISOM run military hospital in the fortified Halane sea side base, which is not accessible to the media.
One doctor described the nature of the injuries, saying that most are victims of shrapnel cuts from the blast “Before we used to treat victims with burns , but today it is was shrapnel that struck the spinal cords and blood veins,” he said.
Most of the dead and injured were outside the hotel, they were either walking around at the time of the blast or residing there.
According to Jazeera management, 2 staff members and one Chinese embassy staff died in the attack.
In what looked like a calculated attack given the heavy security and strong perimeter walls of Jazeera hotel, the attackers used a truck loaded with bombs, scrap metals and fuel which would ram into the wall sending shockwaves to the upper floors of the five storey building.
In a jiffy, the whole section of the northern wall was ripped apart and the building stood like a war relic.
Most parts of the building however remained intact but doors and windows of most hotel rooms were broken and some staff were injured by flying objects.
Huge cracks appear on the building as the foundation was shaken due to magnitude of the blast.
After the blast, the hotel looked like a scene in Syria’s Homa town heavily shelled in the five year unending conflict.
It is the second such attack in the country used by truck load of explosives. In October 2011 , a suicide bomber drove a lorry into the gates of Hargaha and Samaha building (Animal Hides) which housed several ministries including the education ministry.
At the time hundreds of students were queuing to check their examinations results for Turkish scholarship program. More than 100 people were killed, most of them students. Alshabab claimed responsibility.
By then the group controlled territories just outside the city and in an audio propaganda recording about the attack, Alshabab explained that the attack was put together in Elasha Biyaha area, 10 km outside Mogadishu.
Now they have been pushed some 600 km from Mogadishu and squeezed into a tiny portion of the country but they still manage to put together similar attacks.
A high profile minister, who we cannot name because he was speaking off record said Al-Shabaab had been significantly weakened reading by the uncoordinated attack in two former cases this month.
“The fact they have been pushed far away from the city has damaged the effectiveness of their attacks. We can tell that the communication between the attackers and the masterminds has broken down, for example those who attacked Siyad hotel, 6 of them were shot by soldiers in one spot. This shows lack of coordination,” said the minister.
Mogadishu hotel attacks
Since December 3, 2009 when five government ministers and 20 medical students were killed in Shamo hotel, Goobjoog News has recorded more than 14 hotel attacks in Mogadishu alone.
At Jazeera Hotel alone, there have been three attacks since its inception in 2012. The first attack happened on 12th September, 2012 just two days after President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected and at the time of the attack he was holding press conference in the hotel together with visiting Kenyan foreign minister Sam Ongeri.
Jazeera Hotel became the symbol of reconstruction and hope for Somalia. It’s a towering figure in the city overlooking the Aden Ade International Airport and frequented by UN staff for its high end services. It employs highly skilled foreign hospitality staff. The hotel is shielded by a strong perimeter wall and huge brick blocks.
It hosts more than three foreign embassies including China, Qatar and Egypt; none of those embassy workers were hurt besides one china security officials who was confirmed dead.
One night stay in Jazeera Palace hotel goes for $300 US Dollars, making it the most expensive in the country.
The government tabled the anti-terrorism bill three days ago in parliament to the chagrin and ire of lawmakers who dismissed it as draconian and an affront to basic human rights. One article talks about seizure of property for people suspected to be engaged in terror activities. The proposed law also validates the use of surveillance, tapping telephone lanes, hacking electronic addresses and then using it as evidence in front of court of law.
Besides the obvious motive of Alshabab targeting the hotels where high profile people stay, reports indicate Alshabab charges the hotels a ‘safety fee’ and a default is cause enough for an attack.
But all hotels which have been attacked have reopened refurbished and now operating on full capacity. Some of them learned lessons from the security breaches and have installed more security checks and well trained security personnel.
In one hotel, a cup of coffee is more than five security checks away from the entrance.
By Abdinasir Bashir Ahmed