Nine al-Shabaab militants wearing military fatigues and carrying guns and grenades died after attacking Somalia‘s presidential palace with two car bombs in an assault the president called a “media spectacular” by a “dying animal”.
The president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was unharmed but two government officials were killed, the interior ministry said.
The attack underlines a worrying new trend in Mogadishu: despite a period of relative calm following al-Shabaab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu in August 2011, militants have carried out a series of deadly assaults in recent weeks that have seen the city hit with mortar fire and pitched battles.
Weapons meant for the Somali army could have been used by the militants in Friday’s attack. A confidential report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea said this month that the country’s military was selling weaponry in markets where the al-Qaida-linked militants buy weapons.
In at least one case weapons were sold by a military commander directly to an al-Shabaab commander, the report said.
Friday’s attack began with a car bomb explosion, followed by an assault by gunmen on palace guards, said a police captain, Mohamed Hussein. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.
“President just called me to say he’s unharmed. Attack on Villa #Somalia had failed. Sadly some lives lost. I condemn strongly this terrorism,” the UN representative to Somalia, Nick Kay, said on Twitter. He added later: “The Somali people are tired of shootings, bombings and killings. It’s time for a new chapter in Somalia’s history.”
The interior ministry displayed seven of the attackers’ bloodied bodies and said two others had blown themselves up. The wreckage of two car bombs lay nearby.
The two government officials killed were a former intelligence commander and an aide to the prime minister, a Somali-American named Mohamud Hersi Abdulle, said Hussein.
“Apart from media headlines, #Shabaab will achieve nothing from it,” a Twitter account run by the office of the president said. “Don’t be fooled by this “media spectacular’. This is another act of desperation from a dying animal.”
Al-Shabaab has been waging war in Somalia for years as it tries to oust a western-backed government. Weakened from its apex of power, the militant group is still able to launch vicious attacks.
The UN Monitoring Group report, published on 6 February, found that many weapons given to Somalia’s military could no longer be accounted for, including rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and bullets. The monitoring group “has developed serious concerns that the 1,000 AK-47s delivered from Uganda” are no longer in government control, it said.
The report said two separate clan-based power bases in the government were procuring weapons with an agenda that works against peace in Somalia, including by distributing weapons to clan militias. A sub-clan of the president’s dominates weapons procurements and funnels them to militia forces of the Abgaal clan, it said.
“In addition, the monitoring group has also obtained documentary evidence corroborating information that a key adviser to the president, from his Abgaal subclan, has been involved in planning weapons deliveries to al-Shabaab leader Sheikh Yusuf Isse ‘Kabukatukade’, who is also Abgaal,” the report said.
It said ammunition supplied to Somalia’s army had been leaked in large quantities to arms markets. Weapons and ammunition not sold at a market during the day were taken back for storage in garages and houses owned by Somali army officers, the report said.
“Al-Shabaab are known to frequent the market to purchase weapons and ammunition and were easily identifiable by the salesmen there,” it said.
Somalia’s government has not responded publicly to the report and did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College in the US, wrote in a new paper on al-Shabaab, that the militant group had been weakened as a political movement and would not be able to establish an Islamic state, but that its secret service, Amniyat, could still unleash devastating attacks against African Union forces and the Somali government.