Somalia’s security minister has resigned in the wake of a brazen attack by al-Shabaab militants on the country’s parliament, officials said yesterday.
The resignation came hours after the militants set off powerful car bombs outside the gates of the parliament and a group of fighters armed with explosive vests, grenades and machine guns stormed in while scores of lawmakers were meeting.
Somalian Minister of National Security Abdikarim Hussein Guled had already come in for mounting criticism over a spate of high-profile al-Shabaab attacks inside Mogadishu in recent months, including against heavily-guarded sites, including the presidential palace and airport.
“You are aware of the cowardly attack that the violent elements carried out on the parliament. I extend my condolences to the families of the deceased. Considering the current situation of the country, I officially hereby announce my resignation,” Guled told reporters late on Saturday.
No official death toll was given after the attack, but police said eight attackers were killed, and reporters at the scene also counted four dead security guards.
Four MPs were also wounded in the attack, hospital officials said.
Al-Shabaab were pushed out of fixed positions in Mogadishu, the capital, by African Union troops, but have continued to strike inside the city.
Recent al-Shabaab attacks have targeted key areas of government, or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities that they are winning the war against the Islamist fighters.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the assault, describing the parliament as a “military zone” and saying it was a “holy operation.”
The attack started with a car bomb at a gate to the heavily fortified parliament compound, followed by a suicide bombing and then a gunbattle that continued for hours.
“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,” Somalian Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed said on Saturday.
Nicholas Kay, the UN secretary-general’s special representative 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.”
A Western diplomat who has worked with regional intelligence agencies said the attack would add to pressure on Somalian 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?”
The diplomat said the attack showed that a surge by the African Union peacekeeping troops had not weakened al-Shabaab’s capacity to wage asymmetric warfare in the capital, where coordination between Somali and foreign intelligence agencies is poor.
“Because intelligence is fragmented, al Shabaab is slipping through the net,” the diplomat said.
Additional reporting by Reuters