Public Anger over the Hayat Hotel Fiasco

Mogadishu is reeling and public anger is palpable two days after heavily armed al-Shabab militants stormed Hayat Hotel, one of the city’s supposedly secure hotels.

it took nearly 30 hours for the longest siege in Somalia’s history to end, and for security forces to regain control after reportedly a group of armed men – the precise number is still unknown – took up positions in the upper levels of the 4-storey building.

Al-Shabab insurgents who later claimed responsibility for the attack used a tactic they had previously used in similar attacks on hotels. One of their men blew himself up at the hotel checkpoint, then a booby-trapped truck open a breach for the assailants.

The Hayat Hotel is located in KM4, Wadajir District, in a heavily policed zone of the Somali capital and housed government dignitaries and a large number of members of parliament from the Southwest region.

That day was also the venue of a meeting of clan elders on precisely how to respond to the president and his National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) chief’s refusal to open a new investigation into Ikran Tahlil disappearance last year.

Between mismanagement and incompetence

For two days, there was a complete silence from the government and security officials on the hundreds of civilians trapped inside the hotel. Then, on Sunday morning, hours after the hotel was secured, the Somali Police Commissioner General Abdi Hassan Mohamed “Hijar” briefly met local journalists. He said his police force rescued 106 people.

The health minister also met with the media and said he was only aware of 21 deaths. But he quickly added that other dead are missing because family members buried them. It is not yet known how many of them were civilians, or whether this figure includes the attackers. Al-Shabab’s spokesman, on the other hand, claimed 40 killed.

In addition, the Minister indicated that there are at least 117 injured, including 15 seriously, currently being treated in various hospitals. Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, who visited the injured, promised to send the most serious cases abroad for treatment.

The public, suspicious of the figures put forward by a government in full shambles, believes that an attack of this magnitude in such a busy hotel would have cost the lives of many more people.

According to some security experts we consulted, the operation looks like a fiasco and will surely haunt this government for a long time. With eyewitness accounts coming in, the authorities should be more convincing in their scramble to hide the obvious.

Until today, there is no news from the head of the NISA, Mahad Salad, who took charge of directing the operation by dismissing the early police effort.

The Alpha Group factor

It took 2.5 hours for the security forces to get to work tackling the assailants holed up inside the hotel and rescuing hotel guests and staff.

Mahad Salad, the man seen as the president’s arm, reportedly prevented elite Haram’ad police troops from engaging the terrorists and sent in the Alpha group/Gaashaan instead.

The Alpha Group is a CIA-trained, equipped and supervised paramilitary force who is now part of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA).

The unit emerged during President Mohamud’s first term in 2014, but since 2017 his successor, former President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, downgraded its operation due to their proximity to a foreign intelligence agency.

Alpha Group that now reports to Mahad Salad has not been involved in such delicate urban operations for many years, as this task has been devolved to the now accomplished Haram’ad force who is fully supervised by Somalis.

The unit became involved in former Prime Minister Mohamed Roble’s failed coup by helping him break into the NISA compound and impose Bashir Goobe as head of the agency.

Haram’ad, the darling of Somalis, thanks to its high level of achievement, is the tactical unit of the national police and was trained mainly in Turkey. The unit has more than once proven its versatility, responsiveness and professionalism to quickly deal with situations such as an attack on a hotel.

Tactical error or collusion

Clan elder Mohamed Hassan Had, who was rescued after 5 hours trapped inside the hotel, described his ordeal and the mishandling of an operation that started well. He praised Haram’ad police officers and their leader Farhan Qarole who were the first on the scene and saved many lives. However, he questioned the Alpha Group’s takeover and their use of indiscriminate bombardment.

Indeed, Alpha Group’s desperate attempt to prove itself has dragged to rescue of residents trapped inside the building. Additionally, their reckless use of rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weaponry not only destroyed the building, but caused more harm to civilians who needed rescue.

Precision and firepower are the hallmarks of the CIA forces protecting the US Embassy. Alpha Group, along with Waran and Danab, two other US-backed units, are not only trained but also funded, supervised by the Americans and provided air support.

The main action that raised suspicion on Mahad Salad intervention is when he came to the site and cleared the neighborhood telling them that the hotel would be razed to the ground. The destruction did not happen but people believe that was to give space to the terrorists to leave the premises.

Haram’ad was then called back to the site and secured the scene. The late arrival of the Danab unit was also confusing because these troops, while effective in bush fighting, are not very active in urban settings.

Public Anger

The anger of the Somali public is at its height. For the first time, we have a siege that lasted almost two days, a hotel in ruins, and the assailants have evaporated in thin air after continuously repelling the assaults of the security forces.

Al-Shabab spokesman Abdi-Aziz Abu Mus’ab then released a statement saying the group had achieved its goal and all of their militiamen had returned safe and sound. It is difficult to verify his statements, especially since the government did not seek to deny him.

The Somali public is now lashing out at the president for his security policy, or lack thereof, and his inconsistent rhetoric on countering terrorist financing and possible direct negotiation with Al-Shabab.

President Mohamud’s lack of security leadership, poor choice of advisers and his long and frequent trips abroad have only emboldened the terrorist group inside Somalia and on the border in Somalia. course of the last three months.

The public also blames the UN arms embargo on Somali forces, which means they must fight on equal terms against Al-Shabab militiamen.

Finally, Somalis criticize the 20,000 UN-mandated and Western-funded idle African troops whose Al-Shabab they do not fight is their raison d’être. A stronger Al-Shabab is a guarantee of an extension of their presence in Somalia beyond 2023.

A horror that needs no crocodile tears

The horror of the attack was such that the terrorists executed people at close range. A pregnant woman’s life and children were not even spared. Some survivors also said they saw these militants change their clothes and sneak up on fleeing civilians.

Despite numerous messages of support from Western nations, which many Somalis regard as a crocodile’s tear, accusing them of imposing on Somalia the leader who represents their interests, the president has remained mysteriously silent.

Here is some of the reactions of the public to the Hayat Hotel attack.