On June 8, al-Shabaab raided a hotel along Mogadishu’s Lido Beach and killed six guests and three members of the Somali special forces, who had entered the hotel to rescue 84 hostages that eventually escaped (garoweonline.com, June 9). The attack sent a message to the country’s leadership that nowhere in Mogadishu is immune to violence, since the hotel is located in a “safe” district, frequented by government officials and international visitors. More specifically, the attack undermined Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, who has now had two major hotel attacks take place since he assumed office in September 2022.
The first al-Shabaab hotel attack of Mahmoud’s tenure occurred at the Villa Rays hotel in November 2022. After that attack, which saw 14 people killed after a 20-hour siege, Mahmoud claimed that al-Shabaab was “losing ground” and pledged a “total war” against the group (theafricareport.com, November 30, 2022). Yet, the follow-up attack on another hotel in Lido Beach has decisively refuted Mahmoud’s claims regarding al-Shabaab’s supposed defeat.
Beyond the hotel attacks, al-Shabaab’s most successful recent operation involved killing 54 Ugandan troops at a base southwest of Mogadishu (aljazeera.com, June 4). This prompted a reaction from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who acknowledged the deaths, but noted that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) subsequently retook the base from al-Shabaab. Most likely, however, al-Shabaab simply abandoned the base after capturing it.
Al-Shabaab also made the most of the attack on the base by releasing a video to propagandize the operation (garoweonline.com, June 6). In the video, the group’s leader, known as Abu Ubaidah, gave a motivational talk to fighters, five of whom then launched vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) to break through the base’s entrance. Following the breach of the base, several hundred al-Shabaab fighters then entered the base to massacre the Ugandan troops and destroy or pilfer weaponry.
Despite the efforts of the African Union (AU) to combat al-Shabaab, the group is proving to be highly resilient. In 2022, the group also attacked another base and killed 10 Burundian peacekeepers (france24.com, May 4, 2022). Ethiopia, for its part, claimed that al-Shabaab attempted to raid a border town between Ethiopia and Somalia, but the attack was thwarted, with the group’s suicide bombers neutralized (aljazeera.com, June 7).
What becomes clear from the latest al-Shabaab operations and propaganda videos is that Abu Ubaidah is a leader who maintains close proximity to (and significant influence over) his foot soldiers. The group remains steadfast in its determination to eliminate the “foreign” presence of AU troops in Somalia, including through extensive suicide bombings of military and civilian targets, in order to ultimately enforce sharia law throughout Somalia.