Nine al-Shabaab militants wearing military fatigues and carrying guns and grenades died after attacking Mogadishu’s presidential palace with two car bombs on Friday, in an assault Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called a “media spectacular” by a “dying animal.”
Mohamud was unharmed, but two government officials were killed, the Somalian Ministry of the Interior said.
The attack was claimed by the militant group and underscores a worrying new trend in the Somalian capital that has seen militants have in recent weeks carrying out a series of deadly assaults there, despite a period of relative calm following al-Shabaab’s ouster from Mogadishu in August 2011.
Friday’s attack against the compound where the president and prime minister live began with a car bomb explosion, followed by an assault by gunmen on palace guards, Police Captain Mohamed Hussein said.
The two officials killed were a former intelligence commander and an aide to the prime minister, a Somali-American named Mohamud Hersi Abdulle, Hussein said.
“President just called me to say he’s unharmed. Attack on Villa (#)Somalia had failed. Sadly some lives lost. I condemn strongly this terrorism,” UN representative to Somalia Nick Ka, said on Twitter.
In Friday’s attack, a speeding car full of explosives rammed into a barricade erected by soldiers protecting the presidential palace, causing an explosion and sending plumes of smoke into the sky.
Amid the mayhem, gunmen chanting: “God is great” then moved toward a second gate and tried to force their way into the complex.
The ministry displayed the bloodied bodies of seven of the attackers and said that the two others had blown themselves up.
“Apart from media headlines, [#]Shabaab will achieve nothing from it,” a Twitter account run by Mohamud’s office said. “Don’t be fooled by this ‘media spectacular.’ This is another act of desperation from a dying animal.”
Al-Shabaab has been waging war in Somalia for years as it tries to oust a Western-backed government. Despite being weakened from its apex of power, the group is still able to launch vicious attacks.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack “in the strongest terms,” while the UN Security Council said it was “appalled.”
Both paid tribute to Somalian and African Union forces for repelling the attack.
Weapons meant for the Somali Armed Forces could have been used by the militants in Friday’s attack, after a confidential report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea this month said the Somalian military is selling arms in markets frequented by militants.
The report, published on Feb. 6, found that many weapons given to Somalia’s military can no longer be accounted for, including rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and bullets.
In at least one case, weapons were sold by a military commander directly to an al-Shabaab commander, it said.
The Monitoring Group “has developed serious concerns that the 1,000 AK-47s delivered from Uganda” are no longer under government control, the report added.
It said that two separate clan-based power bases in the government are procuring weapons with a clan-based agenda that works against peace in Somalia, including by distributing weapons to clan militias. A sub-clan of Mohamud’s dominates weapons procurements and funnels them to Abgaal militia forces, the UN agency said.