With the succession of high profile attacks by al-Shabaab on Mogadishu Hotels and Restaurants, some assess these incidents as an indication of the group’s strength. Indeed, the Aug 30, LVBIED[i] attack targeting the SYL hotel became the 18th high profile al-Shabaab attack IVO Mogadishu hotels and restaurants since Jan 2015 – Aug 30, 2016.[ii],[iii] While past incidents alone are not necessarily a reliable indicator of what may occur in the future, there are several items of note which may provide insight into al-Shabaab’s current targeting methodology, and why similar future attacks may be expected.
Of the attacks analysed, total casualties included at least 249 people killed, 690 wounded, 66 al-Shabaab militants killed, and at least 2 attackers captured. Based on these figures, at least 13.8 victims were killed per attack, with 38.33 wounded. Over 72 per cent of the attacks were complex, involving multiple methods of attack, with some form of IED employed in all. The deadliest attack of 2015 was the Feb 20, Central Hotel, complex RCIED, SVIED, employing just one attacker, with at least 27 killed, and 50 wounded. Similarly, the deadliest attack of 2016 has thus far been the Aug 30, SYL Hotel LVBIED, employing just one attacker, with at least 28 killed, and 45 wounded. Al-Shabaab will have at times utilised facilitators to assist in attacks, however, the 18 attacks analysed were assessed as having employed 61 attackers, or approx. 3.39 assailants per attack. Based on the data, this means that each assailant killed at least 4.08 persons and wounded at least 11.31 persons per attack.
There is a high concentration of over 25 hotels housing politicians, businessmen and influential members of Somali society, stretching from the Mogadishu Airport north towards Lido Beach, and from KM4 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in central Mogadishu. These attacks occurred in an area approx. 6.3km stretching from Mogadishu International Airport, to Lido Beach with the largest concentration of attacks on Hotels and Restaurants IVO Villa Somalia.
As several attacks occurred near Villa Somalia, some hotels suffered multiple attacks on or IVO their locations, as noted in the illustration below.
The timing and number of attacks average 0.9 attacks per month, or one per 33.78 days, however as noted in Figure 7 below there were sometimes multiple attacks per month, and other months had no attacks. This is further broken down in Figure 8 (Attacks by Month of Year), which show Jan, Jul, and Aug as the having the highest number of attacks, with 3 respectively. Friday remains the day with the greatest number of high profile attacks on Hotels and Restaurants as shown in Figure 8 (Attacks by Day of Week) below, with 28 per cent of attacks occurring on Friday.
While there have been at least two attacks which occurred prior to 1100hrs, 61 per cent of attacks have taken place from 1600hrs, Figure 8 (Attacks by Time of Day). Al-Shabaab is likely undertaking late afternoon attacks and attempting to hold overnight, which may extend international media coverage and add to propaganda value. The militants are almost certainly taking advantage of low light situations and limited capabilities of the Somali security forces to engage attackers holding hostages. Furthermore, as seen in Figure 8, (Attacks by Moon Phase) below, there has yet to be a high profile Hotel or Restaurant in Mogadishu during a Full Moon.
These previous attacks indicate significant networks and al-Shabaab cells in and around Mogadishu capable of planning and conducting operations. The small number of militants required to carry out these operations lowers the risk for the group in attempting similar future attacks. As example, of the 18 attacks analysed, the Lido Seafood and Beach View employed the greatest number of attackers (8), with the average attack conducted by 3.39 persons. With such low risk, and high reward, al-Shabaab is almost certain to be planning similar future attacks. However, a measure of success of these attacks for al-Shabaab is likely less about the total number killed, which often disproportionately affects Sunni Muslim civilians, and is more about the media attention that al-Shabaab is able to attract. This attention is often amplified by the length of time which the assailants are able to hold and remain in control of the attack sites, with longer duration events often attracting a number of social media users and international news organisations attempting to provide minute by minute reports, often based on limited, or false information provided by al-Shabaab. Such media coverage is essential to the group for morale, potential future recruitment, and donations or support from terrorist networks and financiers. Furthermore, with ongoing international counter terrorism operations focused on Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL), some analysts have argued that al-Qaeda affiliates have quietly grown in strength over the past several years by following Usama bin Laden, and later Ayman al-Zawahiri’s direction of winning support from the local Muslim populations. Indeed, al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, and Jabhat al-Nusra, now rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, have seen successes in this strategy. However, al-Shabaab’s harsh treatment of civilian in areas under its control, and continued targeting of Sunni Muslim civilians sets the group apart from these other affiliates. While al-Shabaab has issued a series of warnings as justification following attacks on civilian hotels,[iv] the group’s continued targeting of Muslim civilians is against the teachings and direction from al-Qaeda Central Command, and closer in line with ISIL methods and ideologies, which al-Shabaab is desperately seeking to counter from growing in Somalia.
In addition to hotels, there has arguably been a repositioning of attacks by al-Shabaab under its leader Abu Ubaidah a.k.a. Diriye, which has seen a shift from more traditional asymmetric attacks in Somalia towards a high risk high reward tactic of direct attacks on AMISOM forward operating bases.[v] There has also been a notable uptick in complex attacks on luxury hotels and restaurants in Mogadishu under Diriye. This may, however, be linked to explosives captured from AMISOM base attacks used in the construction of IEDs, as well as the increased development and returning diaspora businesses in Mogadishu in the last two years, rather than any change in direction per se, which has formerly prioritised complex attacks against high value targets in Mogadishu but at a lesser frequency. AMISOM and SNA forces have had some success in regaining territories and regional capitals, but with stalled offensives, limited direct engagements, and a lack of capacity to hold and secure territory, these attacks are likely to continue in the near term. Furthermore, al-Shabaab is nearly certain to be planning to carry out attacks against high risk high reward targets, including hotels, restaurants, guesthouses and other government and international targets, intended to disrupt high level IGAD meetings this week, and national elections scheduled to take place between Sep 25 and Oct 30. While AMISOM has committed to support and assist in securing the electoral process, al-Shabaab networks are present in most regional capitals, and a daunting task lies ahead. In the medium to long term, capacity building of the Somali security forces, and a cohesive offensive engagement strategy must be put in place to degrade and destroy al-Shabaab, rather than the current dispersal strategies which have enabled militants to build facilitation networks and operational cells inside of protected areas. Furthermore, aggressive offensive engagement as seen with ongoing raids by U.S. trained Somali Special Operations Forces, must be supported by AMISOM and SNA operations to deny al-Shabaab safe haven to plan and conduct future attacks. While there has been much progress in rebuilding Somalia over the past several years, al-Shabaab is likely to continue targeting these soft targets in Mogadishu and other regional capitals posing an ongoing threat to peace and stability in the country. END
[i] Large Vehicle Improvised Explosive Device
[ii] Jan 22, 2015: Hotel S.Y.L, Complex SVBIED Armed attack; Feb 20, 2015: Central Hotel, Complex RCIED, SVIED; Mar 11, 2015: Hotel Makka al Mukarama, VBIED near the hotel; Mar 27, 2015: Hotel Makka al Mukarama, Complex SVBIED, Armed attack; Apr 21, 2015: Banoda Restaurant, IVO Central Hotel RCIED; Jul 10, 2015: Hotel Wheliye, Simultaneous Complex SVBIED, Armed attack; Jul 10, 2015: Hotel Siyad, Simultaneous Complex SVBIED, Armed attack; Jul 26, 2015: Jazeera Palace Hotel, LVBIED Detonated near the entrance; Aug 22, 2015: Restaurant IVO Hotel Juba, RCIED; Sep 21, 2015: S.Y.L. Hotel IVO Villa Somalia, SVBIED; Nov 01, 2015: Sahafi Hotel, Complex SVBIED, Armed attack; Jan 02, 2016: Ex-Village Restaurant, SVIED Attack; Jan 21, 2016: Lido Seafood and Beach View Restaurants, Complex VBIED, Armed attack; Feb 26, 2016: S.Y.L. Hotel and Beerta Nabadda (Peace Garden) Complex VBIED, Armed attack; Jun 01, 2016: Ambassador Hotel, Complex VBIED, Armed attack; Jun 25, 2016: Naso Hablood VBIED, Armed Attack; Aug 25, 2016: Banadir Beach Hotel, Complex VBIED, Armed Attack; Aug 30, 2016: SYL Hotel, LVBIED Attack
[iii] There were additional small scale attacks targeting security forces in and around small cafés during the same period, however we have focused this analysis on high profile attacks, targets and venues to illustrate current and historical trends, and how they may impact our clients’ operations.
[iv] Al-Shabaab has stated its aim and intent of assaults on restaurants and hotels in Mogadishu has been the targeting of high level government officials, other VIPs, and for meetings involving internationals, who are known to regularly and routinely use these venues for meetings and as long-term residences. Sep 02, 2015, al-Shabaab Governor of Banadir, Sheikh Ali Jabal, issued a warning against Somalis who frequent hotels, beaches and nightclubs in Mogadishu, and vowed they would increase attacks inside Mogadishu; Jan 25, 2016, al-Shabaab Governor of Banadir, Sheikh Ali Jabal, warned that al-Shabaab would continue its attacks including against hotels and Lido Beach; Aug 31, al-Shabaab spokesperson, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage (Ali Dheere) in an interview to Radio Andalus, warned local residents to stay away from hotels and government buildings.
[v] Burundi, Leego base attack June 2015; UPDF, Janale base attack Sep 2015; KDF El Adde base attack Jan 2016; ENDF Halgan base attack Jun 2016.