Somalian car bomb kills security minister, 22 others

Other News Materials 18 June 2009 23:26 (UTC +04:00)

Islamic insurgents killed Somalia's top security minister and 22 other people today in a suicide car-bomb attack at a hotel frequented by government officials, LAT reported.

The attack, which followed the killing a day earlier of Mogadishu's police chief during skirmishes in the capital, was the latest violence in a two-month battle for control of the Horn of Africa nation. Government soldiers are battling insurgents seeking to install an Islamic state.

National Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden had been leading a recent government offensive against militants in Mogadishu and other parts of the country, successfully recapturing districts that had fallen to insurgents. He was meeting with other government officials and clan elders in the central Somalia town of Baladwayne, about 250 miles north of Mogadishu, near the Ethiopian border, when the attacked occurred.

Somalia's president, Sheik Sharif Ahmed, said the car-bomb strike was evidence that international terrorists were trying to establish a beachhead in Somalia.

"Somalia has been invaded by Al Qaeda, which wants to make a hide-out inside Somalia," Ahmed told reporters in Mogadishu. "Day after day, many foreign people arrive in Somalia. I call on the international community to support us so we can eliminate these terrorists together."

The government and U.N. officials say at least 200 foreign fighters from Yemen, Pakistan and other nations have entered Somalia to assist the hard-line Islamic militia Al-Shabab, which has pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda.

In a separate telephone news conference today, a Shabab spokesman acknowledged responsibility for the attack in Baladwayne.

"One of our holy warriors used a car laden with explosives to enter the building where the apostate and other members from his group were meeting," said Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage.

His militia accuses Ethiopia of sending soldiers over the border in recent weeks to bolster the Somali government. Ethiopian government officials denied the claims. In 2006, Ethiopia's army helped the Somali government topple an Islamic regime that had seized control of Mogadishu.

A Western diplomat in Kenya downplayed Shabab's Al Qaeda connections, saying the foreign fighters entering Somalia do not appear to be well-trained.

But the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, said the international community should move quickly to support the government. "The [government] is the only game in town," the diplomat said. "Now is the time to go all-in."

The U.S. has provided about $1 million in aid to the government over the past six months, but Somali officials say they need more to train and arm soldiers.

Both the government and insurgents claim to have gained the upper hand in the fighting, but witnesses and analysts say the recent battles appear to have done little to tilt the balance of power. In one case, soldiers and insurgents traded control of one Mogadishu police station twice in less than 24 hours.

Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. As many as 250 people have died since May, according to local estimates.

In addition, about 120,000 people have been displaced, the U.N. refugee agency said, many of whom had only returned to Mogadishu at the beginning of the year, when it appeared a transitional government would restore security.

"The recent fighting has had an enormous impact on the humanitarian needs in Somalia and if it continues, the ability of the aid agencies to respond will become even more difficult," said Andrea Pattison, a spokeswoman for Oxfam, which helps provide water and services to the displaced. "People on the ground are suffering from the worst fighting they've seen in a decade."