Sat, Sep 19, 2009 - Page 6 News List

African Union base in Somalia hit by suicide car bombs

AP , MOGADISHU

Islamic insurgents posing as UN staffers detonated suicide car bombs in an African Union (AU) peacekeeping base to avenge a US commando raid that killed an al-Qaeda operative.

Witnesses and officials said the Thursday bombings and a counterstrike from the AU base killed at least 16 people, including four bombers, and wounded dozens.

The sophisticated suicide attack underscored links between al-Qaeda’s terror network and Somalia’s homegrown insurgency. Many fear this impoverished and lawless African nation is becoming a haven for al-Qaeda — a place for terrorists to train and plan attacks elsewhere.

An hour after the bomb attack there was more bloodshed. Missiles fired from the peacekeepers’ airport base exploded in insurgent-controlled areas of the capital.

An Associated Press photographer saw a young woman and a girl dead on the street, their bodies bloodied from their wounds.

Ali Muse of the Mogadishu ambulance service said the missiles killed seven people and wounded 16.

The suicide bombings are a hallmark of al-Qaeda that can be traced to training from militants like the operative killed this week by helicopter-borne US special forces, said Ted Dagne, a Washington-based Africa specialist.

Suicide attacks were virtually unknown in Somalia before 2007, even though the nation has been wracked by war for almost two decades.

“Al-Qaeda provided the training as well as the brainwashing,” Dagne said. “Never in Somali culture, never during 19 years of war, was suicide bombing used as a tool. This is new.”

There have been about a dozen suicide bombings since the Islamic insurgent group al-Shabab stepped up its attacks against the Western-backed backed government in 2007.

Al-Shabab controls much of Somalia and operates openly in the capital, confining the government and peacekeepers to a few blocks of the city. The US and the UN support Somalia’s government and the African peacekeeping force.

The suicide bombers arrived at the airport in UN cars packed with explosives and drove onto the main base of the AU peacekeepers before setting off two huge blasts that shattered windows over a wide area and shrouded the sky in black smoke.

An airport security officer said soldiers guarding the base waved in the trucks because they were UN vehicles. Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke confirmed the cars had been stolen.

“When the cars entered one of them sped toward a petrol depot and exploded,” the security officer said, asking that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “The other one exploded in a nearby area.”

A witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said there were 11 bodies at the AU base. But the AU said nine people were killed there: four suicide bombers and five officials from the Somali government and the AU peacekeeping force, including its Burundian deputy commander.

At least one American was wounded by the bombings, said a police official in Nairobi, Kenya, where several of the wounded were flown.

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