MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Two days after Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud won office, militants sent him a grim message: double suicide bomb blasts at his temporary residence in a Mogadishu hotel.
Mohamud was not harmed in the attack on the Jazeera Hotel near the airport, in one of the more secure areas of the capital. Al Shabab, an Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the assault in a tweet.
Several soldiers were killed in the blast, according to agency reports. An Associated Press photographer inside the hotel at the time reported there were at least five bodies outside the hotel.
Three suicide bombers attacked the hotel, one in a small car packed with explosives and two on foot. The driver of the car and one of the pedestrian attackers managed to detonate their bombs, but the third was shot to death before he could do so, according to a spokesman for African Union peacekeeping forces in a telephone interview.
Mohamud and Kenyan Foreign Minister Sam Ongeri were holding a news conference as blasts shook the building.
While Al Shabab withdrew its forces from the capital last year, Wednesday’s attack underscored how easily the militia can infiltrate the city and carry out suicide bombings or targeted assassinations. It also suggests how much work Mohamud has ahead of him to unify the fractured, war-torn country. Somalia has not seen lasting peace since 1991 when dictator Siad Barre was ousted and the state collapsed.
The election Monday of Mohamud came as a surprise because he is a civic activist and academic outside of the political elite. He defeated incumbent President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed. But questions remain whether he will be able to exert control over Somalia’s fractious clan warlords.
As a moderate, he is likely to face continuing entrenched resistance from Al Shabab.
A day earlier, Al Shabab condemned the election of Mohamud by Somalia's parliament, alleging that the vote was manipulated by Western powers eager to steal Somali resources.
Al Shabab proclaimed on its Twitter profile that it "successfully targets a hotel near the airport in Mogadishu where a high-profile meeting was being held.” A later update stated: “A number of enemies killed at the venue, the operation is ongoing. Stay tuned for the latest updates.”
Al Shabab frequently posts notices to its more than 15,500 Twitter followers on its attacks, and recently quoted from a phone call the group conducted with a Kenyan woman whose brother was a soldier killed by Al Shabab in Somalia.
Suicide bombings and assassination attempts against Somali politicians are common. In April 2011, a suicide bomber attacked the newly opened National Theater where then-Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohomed Ali was speaking. Video footage showed him and other officials wincing at the blast. He survived the attack but 10 people died, including several top sporting officials.
-- Lutfi Sheriff Mohammed and Robyn Dixon
Photo: A soldier stands guard outside the Jazeera Hotel, the temporary home of Somalia's new president Hassan Sheik Mohamud, which was hit by two explosions in Mogadishu on Wednesday. Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh / Associated Press.