In what locals are calling the biggest explosion to ever rock Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab struck a hotel in the Somali capital Sunday during President Obama’s visit to neighboring Kenya.
A suicide bomber rammed the gate of the Jazeera Palace Hotel, shearing the side off the six-story building in the explosion.
The hotel is near the United Nations compound. It houses several foreign missions, including China, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kenya. Journalist Mohamed Abdikarim, who worked for Universal TV, and a Chinese embassy worker were among the dead, a toll that was at least 13.
Jazeera Palace Hotel also had Kenyan management and many Kenyan workers.
“The explosion was so huge that homes near it were leveled. I live 3 KMs away, and paint was blow off some of my walls,” tweeted one Somali political analyst.
In his noontime speech at the Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi, Obama told Kenyans “the United States faces similar threats of terrorism” as they face from Al-Shabaab.
“It is important to remember that violent extremists want us to turn against one another. That’s what terrorists typically try to exploit,” he said. “…Terrorists who try to sow chaos, they must be met with force and they must also be met, though, with a forceful commitment to uphold the rule of law, and respect for human rights, and to treat everybody who’s peaceful and law-abiding fairly and equally.”
Al-Shabaab considers Kenya, which is more than 82 percent Christian and about 11 percent Muslim, to be occupied by the “kuffar” (nonbelievers) and in need of being liberated for Muslims.
“Extremists who prey on distrust must be defeated by communities who stand together and stand for something different. And the most important example here is, is that the United States and Kenya both have Muslim minorities, but those minorities make enormous contributions to our countries. These are our brothers, they are our sisters,” Obama said. “And so in both our countries, we have to reject calls that allow us to be divided.”
“..People should not be judged by their last name, or their religious faith, but by their content of their character and how they behave. Are they good citizens? Are they good people?”
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that “the United States strongly condemns today’s abhorrent attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, which purposefully and cruelly targeted innocent civilians.”
“Despite the very real progress Somalia has achieved in recent years, this attack is yet another reminder of the unconscionable atrocities that terrorist groups continue to perpetrate against the people of Somalia,” Price said. “As the president underscored during his meetings with Kenyan President Kenyatta over the last two days—and as he will reiterate during his visit to Ethiopia and the African Union, two staunch supporters of the Federal Government of Somalia and the Somali people—the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to work with Somali authorities, our regional partners, and the broader international community to bring an end to acts of terrorism and combat violent extremism in Somalia.”