Twin terror attacks shatter fragile peace
At least 19 people killed as al-Shabaab militants linked to al-Qaeda attack law courts and bomb convoy of African Union and Turkish vehicles
At least 19 people were killed in the Somali capital yesterday in suicide bombings and assaults by al-Shabaab militants linked to al-Qaeda, breaking a fragile return to peace in Mogadishu.
A bomb exploded outside law courts in the city as gunmen stormed the compound. Security forces then battled the fighters inside. Later, a bomb exploded near an African Union and Turkish Red Crescent convoy near the airport. Al-Shabaab confirmed it carried out the attacks.
"About seven well-armed men in government uniform entered the court today as soon as a car bomb exploded at the gate. We thought they were government soldiers," said Aden Sabdow, who works at the mayor's office adjacent to the court.
Government forces arrived and laid siege to the compound and there were more blasts while the two sides exchanged gunfire. Hours later, the shooting stopped, but government forces said they believed some fighters were still hiding inside.
Reporters counted 16 bodies around the compound, some of them in uniform, but it was not clear how many of them were government soldiers, attackers or civilians.
Witnesses said that in addition to the car bombs, three of the gunmen who stormed the court also blew themselves up using explosives strapped on their bodies.
Security in Mogadishu has improved greatly since an African Union and Somali government offensive drove al-Shabaab out of the coastal capital in August 2011.
But the threat persists from al-Shabaab, which still controls much of the countryside, and it has hit back this year with a series of bomb attacks.
"We carried out a superb intense mission in Mogadishu today. We killed 26 people including soldiers and court staff," al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said.
"We assigned five special mujahideen for the court - four of them entered and killed the people inside. The other with his car bomb exploded when government soldiers gathered at the gate."
Al-Shabaab routinely inflates the number of people it kills.
Soldiers managed to rescue the Supreme Court chairman and other officials. Some climbed down ladders against the walls.
Later, a car bomb exploded at a building housing Somali intelligence along the road to the airport as Turkish and African Union vehicles were passing, police and witnesses said. Government forces then opened fire and blocked the road.
"I saw three dead people including a man, a woman and a child. The ruined car bomb is in the middle of the road," a witness said.
"The explosion occurred here, the car with the bomb targeted Turkish vehicles and hit the last car of the convoy, two Turks died while two women passersby were also killed," district police officer Abdifatah Canjex said.
Another Somali police officer said there were Turks among the dead. But a Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity said a Somali driver was killed and three Turkish passengers were wounded in the attack.