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Suicide car bombers hit main AU base in Somalia

By on September 18, 2009

af.reuters.comSomali rebels hit the African Union’s (AU) main base in Mogadishu on Thursday with two suicide car bombs, killing at least nine people and showing their ability to strike at the heart of the peacekeeping mission. Hospital sources said at least seven more people died in artillery battles that broke out after the blasts.

Burundi’s army said the deputy commander of the AU mission AMISOM was among the dead. The force commander was wounded.

The attack took place after the insurgents said they would avenge the killing of an al Qaeda suspect by U.S. commandos.

Witness Farah Hassan said two U.N.-marked vehicles drove into the base followed by two pick-ups carrying government troops.

“We thought they were real U.N. cars carrying white people, but moments later deafening thunder shook the ground,” he told Reuters. “The area was covered with flames and clouds of smoke.”

A Reuters reporter saw six wounded soldiers carried away from the site of the explosions, some bleeding heavily, while thick smoke poured into the sky over the capital.

Among the dead were some Somalis who had been receiving medical treatment at the AU base, witnesses said. Somali government officials were meeting representatives of the African Union peacekeeping mission there at the time.

Somali Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Gelle told Reuters the drivers of the two cars were foreigners:

“They spoke English and identified themselves as being from the United Nations.”

In the past few months, al Shabaab rebels have looted U.N. compounds in two Somali towns.

It looked to be the worst attack on the 5,000-strong force since 11 Burundians were killed in February by two suicide bombers who infiltrated another base. It also followed one of the city’s most violent months in 20 years.

A suicide bomber killed Somalia’s national security minister and at least 30 other people in a June strike on a central town, again targeting senior officials attending a meeting.

Fighting in Somalia has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and left 1.5 million more homeless.

Western security agencies say lawless Somalia has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the region and beyond.

Al Shabaab’s spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, told Reuters Thursday’s attacks were to avenge the death of Kenyan-born Salah Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed in southern Somalia on Monday in a raid by U.S. special forces.

“We have got our revenge for our brother Nabhan. Two suicide car bombs targeting the AU base, praise Allah,” he said.

There were five suicide bombers in the two cars, he said.

“We knew the infidel government and AU troops planned to attack us after the holy month. This is a message to them.”

Nabhan, 28, had been allied with al Shabaab, which Washington accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

Thursday’s attack may deter some African nations, including Nigeria and Djibouti, that have agreed in principle to send soldiers to reinforce the AU mission. So far, Uganda and Burundi are the only nations to have sent soldiers.

Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, said “a number” of peacekeepers had been killed and many others wounded.

Hours before the suicide attacks, al Shabaab had issued demands in return for the release of a French security consultant the rebels are holding, including an immediate end to French support for Somalia’s fragile government.

The Frenchman is one of two security consultants seized in Mogadishu in July. His colleague escaped on August 26.

Al Shabaab demanded the “immediate cessation of any political or military support to the apostate government of Somalia and the withdrawal of all its security advisers”.

They demanded the withdrawal of the AU peacekeepers, “especially the Burundians”, and the departure of French warships tackling piracy in Somali waters. They also called for the release of mujahideen prisoners in other countries.


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