At least 10 people were killed and dozens injured in an attack on a hotel in Somalia’s port city of Kismayo on Friday, according to police.
Several gunmen stormed the heavily fortified Asasey Hotel in Kismayo, about 500 km south of the capital Mogadishu, after detonating a car bomb at the entrance gate, police captain Mahad Abdia told CNN.
Among the victims was Hodan Nalayeh, a prominent Somali-Canadian journalist and YouTube star. The 43-year-old was critically wounded in the attack and died at the hospital of her injuries, Abdia said. Her husband Farid was also killed in the attack.
A candidate for regional presidency, tribal elders, and journalists were also among the dead, Abdia told CNN. Local officials had been meeting inside the hotel ahead of a regional election in August. Dozens were rescued, he said.
Terror group Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement published on an affiliated website, saying it targeted Jubbaland state ministers, regional and federal lawmakers, as well as candidates in the hotel. CNN has not been able to independently confirm these claims.
Hassan Ali Khayre, Somalia’s Prime Minister condemned “the brutal attack” in a statement Friday, and sent condolences to the relatives of the victims
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack in a statement Friday, expressing “the support and solidarity of the United Nations with the people of Somalia in their pursuit of a peaceful future.”
Nalayeh, mother of two young boys, was a popular conference speaker and the founder of an independent online outlet with millions of views on YouTube, called Integration TV, that focuses on social issues and uplifting stories from the Somali communities.
In her last tweet on Thursday, Nalayeh contemplated her country’s beauty by sharing images from the island of Ilisi.
Another journalist, Mohamed Sahal Omar, was shot while trying to cover the attack. The 35-year-old worked for the Puntland-based Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and was shot in the head as he attempted to photograph the attackers inside the hotel, according to a statement by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).
“We mourn the senseless deaths of our two colleagues, Mohamed Sahal and Hodan Nalayeh, who were both murdered in a cowardly and senseless terrorist attack,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
“The death of Hodan and Mohamed speaks of the continuing hazards that journalists face in Somalia,” Osma added. “They were deeply committed to independent journalism and the principles of a free media.”
The Somali town of Kismayo was once considered an Al-Shabaab stronghold. It was recaptured in 2012, prompting the return of least 1,000 families.
Reporting contributed by Stephanie Busari.