Militants launched a serious and sustained assault on Mogadishu’s main court complex on Sunday, detonating at least two blasts, taking an unknown number of hostages and engaging in extended gunbattles with government security forces, witnesses said.
The attack on Somalia’s Supreme Court complex began at around 12.30 p.m. local time and running battles with police and army forces lasted more than two hours. Two bomb blasts were heard and gunmen were seen on a court building roof firing shots, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.
A confirmed death toll wasn’t immediately available. However, Hassan Abdulahi, a police officer, said he saw five dead bodies lying at the entrance to the court.
The gunmen took hostages in the main courtroom and forced their way into other rooms in the complex, said another police officer, Abdinasir Nor. The number of hostages wasn’t immediately known.
The armed men forced their way inside the complex and immediately set off an explosion, said Yusuf Abdi, who was near the court when the attack happened. A government spokesman, Mohamed Yusuf, confirmed the attack and said security forces had responded and were battling the militants. That was followed by a second blast some minutes later.
About two hours after the assault began, survivors of the attack began coming out of the court complex after locking themselves in room. Some were crying, others held their heads in their hands.
“I never expected to make it out alive today,” said Halima Geddi, who fled the court complex about two hours after the attack. She said she had taken cover behind an outer wall. “There is no peace. No one protects us. I came to see my boy who was supposed to be tried here.”
Mogadishu’s main government centre is heavily guarded with multiple security checks. However, the security at the court complex is not nearly as strong. Ugandan troops from the African Union forces stationed in the city arrived on scene and began pushing back on-lookers.
Most militant attacks in Mogadishu are blamed on fighters from al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremist rebel group in Somalia. Al-Shabab ruled Mogadishu from roughly 2006 until August 2011, when African Union and Somali forces pushed them out of the city. Since then the al-Shabab extremists have launched suicide bombings on the capital city every few weeks.