Al-Shabab suicide squad kills 9 at UN compound in Mogadishu
Compound in Somali capital hit by truck bomb, then hail of gunfire, just six months after world body expanded its presence in war-torn nation
Seven al-Qaeda-linked gunmen detonated an explosives-laden pick-up truck at the gate of the fortified UN compound in Somalia's capital yesterday, killing at least nine people, officials said.
Three of those killed were foreigners.
The seven al-Shabab militants were from what the militia called its martyrdom, or suicide, brigade. They all died in the assault, an official said, bringing the overall death toll to at least 16.
Fadumo Hussein, a shopkeeper who was sitting inside her shop near the scene of the attack, described a narrow escape. "It started with an earsplitting explosion, followed by heavy gunfire," she said, showing holes made by bullets on her shop. "I crouched and then crawled like an animal. I am very lucky. It was a shocking moment."
The attack comes only six months after the United Nations expanded its presence in Mogadishu, where it had kept only a small operation because Islamic insurgents had controlled much of the capital until being pushed out in an offensive in 2011.
Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon condemned the brazen daylight raid as a "senseless and despicable attack on innocent UN civilians", while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was shocked.
Al-Shabab said on its Twitter feed shortly after the 11.30am attack began that its fighters "are now in control of the entire compound and the battle is still ongoing". African Union and Somali security forces responded and took control of the compound by 12.30pm.
UN staff who sought refuge in the compound's secure bunker were then evacuated to a secure military base and airport complex across the street, said Ben Parker, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia.
Two South Africans from the company Denel Mechem, who were doing demining work for the UN, died in the attack, said Vuyelwa Qinga, a spokeswoman for Denel, a manufacturer of defence equipment.
A UN official said he believed two UN personnel, from Kenya and Somalia, were also killed.
"There was not very much time to get into the safe area," said Parker.
The top UN official on Somalia, Nicholas Kay, also works out of the building, but was not inside the compound when it was attacked. Kay said he was shocked and horrified by the attack.
"The United Nations Common Compound houses UN personnel working on humanitarian and development issues for the Somali people. This was an act of blatant terrorism and a desperate attempt to knock Somalia off its path of recovery and peace building," said Kay.
The UN said it was verifying its casualty numbers. "There are certainly some injured and most likely worse," it said.
Speaking to the UN Security Council yesterday, Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson called the attack outrageous and said the UN remains committed to achieving peace and keeping Somalia on its path to recovery.
At 11.30am the compound was rocked by the car bomb blast that blew down the compound's front gate. At least two other blasts followed, Parker said.
Mohamed Ali, an ambulance driver, said he transported five dead civilians and 10 people who were wounded.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press