Al Shabaab breaches heavy security to bomb presidential palace

By Collins Wanzala in Nairobi

Al Shabaab fighters on the outskirts of Mogadishu display their weaponry.

At least three people were killed and several others injured when a suicide bomber hit the presidential compound of the Somali President, Sheikh Sharif in the capital Mogadishu Wednesday. Confirming the attack on one of the most heavily guarded compounds in the country known as ‘Villa Somalia’, Paddy Ankunda, the Africa Union spokesman at first said four people had been killed and no-one else injured when the bomb went off near the house of the Speaker of the Somali parliament which is inside the presidential compound. But speaking to reporters later, Col Abdullahi Barise, a police spokesman said five people had been killed and 10 injured. As we went to press, this was revised to three dead.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman of Al Shabaab, the militant group in control of most parts of Somalia, claimed his organisation was responsible for the blast. He told news agencies that 17 people had lost their lives during the attack and 30 injured. He was quoted as bragging: “What a victory inside the so-called presidential palace! More explosions and more bombs will follow.” Last month, Al Shabaab announced it had joined forces with Al Qaeda and if it was a suicide bomber that finally breached the presidential palace security, then this could be the clearest sign that Al Shabaab is now working closely in tandem with Al Qaeda.

The explosion occurred as a high level delegation of Kenyan government officials including Foreign Affairs Minister. Moses Wetangula had just arrived in Mogadishu. Wetangula and his team are visiting the country after the Kenyan military was recently rehatted into the African Union force in Somalia to fight the Al- Shabaab following a UN Security Council resolution in February that increased the force’s strength to 17,731. He was reported to be safe and not to have been caught in the unfortunate incident.

Abdirashid Mohamed Ali, the National Security Advisor to the Somali Prime Minister and Mr Ankunda both confirmed the blast took place near the front gate of the presidential compound, close to a house occupied by the Somali Speaker.

In the meantime, the head of the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF), Gen Aronda Nyakairima unveiled Tuesday plans to liberate the remaining southern and central regions of Somalia still held by Al –Shabaab between now and August this year when the term of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) comes to an end. During a visit to Somalia Tuesday, Gen Nyakairima, whose troops outnumber any other African contingent, said that peacekeepers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM would be tasked to seize four strategic areas in Somalia.

Gen Nyakairima said AMISOM troops will aim to secure all Somali territory except Somaliland and Puntland, the two semi-autonomous authorities in northern Somalia. The general said that Phase One would take place from Mogadishu with Ugandan and Burundian forces tasked to capture the Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle regions. “The operation is going to be led by a Ugandan Commander,” said Gen Nyakairima. Using a military chart, he said that Phase Two would have joint forces from Kenya and Sierra Leone tasked to seize Jubaland in southern Somalia under the command of a Kenyan general. The Third Phase would involve the liberation of Bay and Bakol regions in south-western Somalia from Al- Shabaab by a combined African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This phase will be led by forces from Burundi and Uganda, under the leadership of a Burundian general.

Meanwhile, Uganda has announced it has put aside a force of 5,000 soldiers to go after the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Gen Joseph Kony. Speaking to the BBC Tuesday, UPDF spokesman Col Fred Kulayigye said the force which is to be led by Col Dick Olum a former provost-marshal of the UPDF is already on its way to the Central African Republic where Kony is believed to have fled after being forced out of northern Uganda nearly six years ago.

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