Al-Shabab militants stormed Somalia's parliament yesterday, killing at least 10 security officers in a bomb and gun assault that the United Nations called "an attack against the people".
The attack - by the al-Qaeda-linked group that killed 67 people at a Kenyan shopping mall last year - started with a car bomb at a gate to the heavily fortified parliament compound, followed by a suicide bombing and then a gun battle that continued for hours.
"Ten government forces died, and 14 others were injured in the attack today. Four lawmakers were also injured. Seven of the fighters who attacked the house were also killed," Kasim Ahmed Roble, a police spokesman, said. A spokesman for al-Shabab, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, said that the group's fighters had killed 30 people. "We killed 30 from the AU (African Union) and from the various forces of the so-called Somali government," he said.
The al-Shabab estimate of the death toll was not independently verifiable.
Witnesses saw four bodies at the scene and saw a soldier fall from a rooftop after being shot.
"We are behind the suicide bombing, explosions and the fighting inside the so-called Somali parliament house, and still heavy fighting is going on inside," said the al-Shabab spokesman.
The African Union Mission in Somalia said all the lawmakers who were in parliament before the attack were safely evacuated. The attack on parliament, a building about 300 metres from the president's palace that is guarded by African Union peacekeepers and Somali forces, showed that the al-Qaeda-linked group remains capable of hitting the centre of Mogadishu despite being pushed out of the capital two years ago.
"The terrorists have once again shown that they are against all Somalis, by killing our innocent brothers and sisters. These cowardly, despicable actions are not a demonstration of the true Islamic faith," said Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed.
Nicholas Kay, special representative of the UN secretary-general for Somalia, said: "The federal parliament represents the people of Somalia and their hopes and aspirations for a peaceful and stable future. Today's attack is an attack against the people of Somalia for which there can be no justification."
In February at least 11 people were killed when al-Shabab attacked the presidential compound. In April its members killed two lawmakers.
A Western diplomat who has worked with regional intelligence agencies said the attack would add to the pressure on President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud from about 100 parliamentarians who last month called for him to be impeached over worsening security. "The federal government is exercising no control," the diplomat said. "Those ... in parliament will start asking questions: what is this guy achieving?"