Thursday, June 18, 2009

Suicide bomber kills Somali security minister

Hardline Islamist insurgents killed Somalia's security minister and at least 24 other people on Thursday in the deadliest suicide bomb attack yet in the Horn of Africa nation, officials said.

Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden was a key player in the government offensive against Islamist rebels who control much of southern Somalia and want to impose a strict version of Islamic law in the Horn of Africa nation.

Insurgent group al Shabaab, which has links to al Qaeda, stepped up their attacks in early May to try to oust President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, but neither side has delivered a knockout blow and clashes have killed about 300 people since then.

Western nations, some of Somalia's neighbors and the government fear that if the chaos persists, more foreign fighters coming to wage holy war will be sucked into the Horn of Africa nation, increasing risks to the region.

"Al Qaeda considers Somalia a strategic place. They want to make it a safe haven for criminals," President Ahmed told a news conference. "This is an international war against Somalis. We ask the world to help us fight the international terrorists."

A suicide car bomber targeted Aden and other officials at a hotel in Baladwayne, a central town where the minister was helping direct operations against al Shabaab, which officials say has hundreds of foreign fighters in its ranks.

A senior official in the prime minister's office said Somalia's former ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdkarin Farah Laqanyo, was also killed in the explosion.


Mohamed Abdi, a shopkeeper near the hotel, said smoke was rising from the building, government forces started shooting after the blast and body parts were scattered in the street.

Officials and hospital sources said the bomb killed at least 25 people and wounded 38.

A suicide car bomber killed seven people outside a police headquarters in the capital in May. A twin suicide attack on a base for African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu killed 11 soldiers from Burundi in February. Thirteen civilians and a policeman died in a suicide attack in January in the capital.

Aden moved to Baladwayne at the start of June with heavily armed troops in a bid to recapture more territory from hardline Islamist insurgents outside Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the blast.

"One of our Mujahideen has carried out that holy attack and the so-called security minister and his men were killed," Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, told local media.

The insurgent group has so far resisted government attempts to drive its fighters from the capital. The rebels, along with allied group Hizbul Islam, control most of southern Somalia bordering Kenya and parts of the central region.

Analysts say the fighting in Mogadishu is the worst for years and the chances of any negotiated peace are waning.