MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Islamist rebels detonated a car bomb near a hotel in the Somali capital on Friday and then set off another bomb inside where politicians had gathered, killing at least 10 people including a lawmaker and lightly wounding two ministers.
Al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attack, aims to topple the Western-backed federal government and impose its strict version of Islamic sharia law on the Horn of Africa nation that is struggling to rebuild after two decades of war.
The bombers targeted the Central Hotel around midday on Friday, typically a busy time for hotels as it is the Somali weekend. Ambulances wailed as they raced to the scene where a huge plume of smoke rose above the Indian Ocean coastal city.
“We are behind the attack,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters. “We targeted government officials in the hotel; this is part of our operation in Mogadishu.”
The car bomb went off inside the Central Hotel compound which also houses a small mosque popular with government officials. Police said a suicide bomber ran into the mosque during Friday prayers and blew himself up.
“We are very sorry that the terrorists again attack Muslims in Friday prayer in a mosque in Central Hotel,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said in a statement. “We shall continue the fight against the terrorists.”
At least 10 people had been killed, including a lawmaker, security officers and civilians, said police Major Nur Mohamed. “But the death toll may rise,” he said.
Abdirisak Omar Mohamed, Somalia’s Internal Security Minister, told Reuters that it was unclear how a car laden with explosives managed to breach hotel security to park inside the compound. “(National intelligence) are going to interrogate the management of the hotel,” he said.
Farah Abdullahi, a police captain, said Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Omar Arte and Ports and Marine Transport Minister Nur Farah Hirsi were lightly wounded in the attack.
He earlier wrongly identified one injured minister as Transport Minister Ali Ahmed Jamac.
Information Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayir Mareye told a radio station that “many died” including a lawmaker and the deputy mayor of Mogadishu. He said more details would follow.
Al Shabaab once dominated much of Somalia but it has been slowly pushed out of strongholds across the country. However, its guerrilla-style gun assaults and suicide bombings continue to exert pressure on the government to improve security.
A military campaign launched by African Union peacekeeping forces and the Somali government forces ousted al Shabaab from Mogadishu in 2011 and from major coastal towns.
But persistent attacks in Mogadishu, while less frequent, have complicated the government’s efforts to secure the nation for a referendum on a new federal constitution and a presidential election during 2016.
Writing by Drazen Jorgic and Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich