Somali politician with Canadian citizenship killed in al-Shabaab hotel attack

A Somali government minister with Canadian citizenship was among 15 people killed Saturday when gunmen stormed a hotel in Mogadishu in an hours-long attack that reportedly began with a suicide bomber detonating a vehicle loaded with explosives.

'Anyone who follows their passion to help rebuild Somalia knows there’s always a risk of death'

Buri Mohamed Hamza is pictured with his two children, Raja, left, and Mohamed, right, in this photo taken in Woodbridge, Ont., north of Toronto. (Buri Hamza/Facebook)

A Somali government minister with Canadian citizenship was among 15 people killed Saturday when gunmen stormed a hotel in Mogadishu in an hours-long attack that reportedly began with a suicide bomber detonating a vehicle loaded with explosives.

Buri Mohamed Hamza was born in Somalia and served as state minister for the environment. He died when his room at Mogadishu's Nasa-Hablod hotel collapsed from the force of the powerful car bomb, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

Multiple sources confirmed to CBC News that Hamza held Canadian citizenship.

His wife and two children — a daughter, Raja, and a son, Mohamed, both in their 20s — were living in Woodbridge, Ont., north of Toronto.

Neighbour Abdiqani Ismail told CBC News that ​he last saw Hamza in May, when his friend of two decades had spent a week in Woodbridge.

"Even in May, we questioned, 'What about safety, Buri?'" Ismail said.

But for Hamza, leaving Somalia was out of the question.

'We cannot run away from the country'

"He said, 'Abdiqani, we cannot, all of us, run away from reality … We cannot run away from the country. We have to sacrifice,'" Ismail said.

Ismail was worried about his friend when he heard of the attack but held out hope. The bad news came around midnight Saturday, when Ismail received a phone call from Mogadishu and learned authorities had found his friend's body.

It took them 16 hours to identify Hamza, Ismail was told.

Hodan Nalayeh is also a close friend of Hamza's wife and lives near their home in the Highway 7 and Weston Road area. She said Hamza would visit often.

Despite the comforts of Canada and a family in Toronto, Nalayeh said Hamza's heart was in Somalia. He hoped to make a positive change in the country despite the risks, she said, and had been working there since 2012.

Security forces gather outside the Nasa-Hablod hotel, which was attacked by gunmen on Saturday. (Reuters)

"Anyone who follows their passion to help rebuild Somalia knows there's always a risk of death," the Somali-born Toronto media personality said. "Buri knew Somalia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. He wanted the beauty of Somalia to be protected. This was his passion."

Saturday's hotel attack was the second in Somalia since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Both attacks have been claimed by the militant group al-Shabaab, which is allied with al-Qaeda.

Global Affairs Canada told CBC News it is working to determine if any Canadian citizens were directly affected by the attack and is prepared to provide consular assistance to its citizens.

"Canada condemns unequivocally terror attacks such as this," spokeswoman Diana Khaddaj said in an email.

'He was a light'

In a statement Sunday, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud also condemned the attacks, which have raised concerns about the security of hotels in the seaside capital. Mogadishu has been targeted by al-Shabaab in recent years.

"The trend and lethality of such attacks suggest how vulnerable the security of hotels and the city in general are now," Mohamed Sheikh Abdi, a Somali political analyst told the Associated Press.

Friends of Hamza told CBC News that anytime he visited Toronto, they would gather to have a dinner in his honour. On Sunday, they did so again — this time to celebrate his life and mourn his loss. 

"We would always ask, 'Are you not worried about your safety?'" Rashad Ali said. "He would always come back with the same answer: If we didn't sacrifice, if we didn't go back, then who would?'"

"He died through sacrifice," Ismail said Sunday.

If it was for the betterment of Somalia, Buri would do it, Ismail said.

"Buri was not a normal individual. He was a light in Somali society," Ismaili said. "He was a light."

With files from The Associated Press