Islamist al-Shabaab rebels claimed responsibility on Saturday for a bomb that killed six people outside a popular Mogadishu hotel the day before, and said they deliberately targeted government officials and security forces.
Police suspected the militants were behind the blast, the latest in a series of frequent attacks in the Somalian capital that highlight the challenge the government faces in restoring order to a nation torn apart by two decades of war and chaos.
“We were behind the two explosions at the hotel,” al-Shabaab military operations spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said.
A senior police officer said on Friday night at least six people, including four policemen, were killed when a suspected car bomb went off outside the Hotel Maka al-Mukarama, a popular meeting place for officials and businesspeople.
The powerful blast, which was heard across the city, occurred at the gates of the hotel, one of the most expensive in Mogadishu and run by Somalians from the diaspora.
Police and security forces immediately sealed off the area after the huge blast outside the hotel.
Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud’s spokesman said one of the country’s top diplomats — Abdulkadir Ali Dhuub, a former acting ambassador to London — was among the dead.
Somalian Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon blamed “enemies of peace” for the attack.
“I condemn this attack in the strongest terms and send my condolences to the families and friends of all the innocent victims who were killed and wounded. Once again the enemies of peace show their true colors to the world,” he said in a statement.
The statement from the presidency said another blast was averted, with a man carrying a “laptop and explosive items” apprehended while trying to set off a bomb inside the hotel at the same time as the car bomb
The attack comes as the African Union force in Somalia is asking the UN Security Council to green-light a boost in its numbers by more than a quarter to 22,000 as part of efforts to step up offensive operations against the al-Shabaab.
The militants have frequently struck the heart of Mogadishu, including the area around the hotel, and in September claimed responsibility for a massacre at an upmarket shopping centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, that left at least 67 dead.
Al-Shabaab said it carried out the attack on the Westgate mall in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.
Friday’s attack comes after a US army drone strike on an al-Shabaab convoy that officials said killed the rebels’ top suicide bombmaker.