Just two days into his job, Somalia’s newly-elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud yesterday (Wednesday) narrowly escaped death when Islamist suicide bombers attacked the hotel where he was giving a news conference. The attack also narrowly missed killing Kenya’s Foreign Minister Sam Ongeri who was with the Somali leader during the press conference.
The Al-Qaeda-linked militant group, Al-Shabaab, claimed they had staged the attack in which at least eight people are said to have died, including a soldier from the African Union forces (AMISOM) who are helping the Somali government restore peace and order in the country. “We were behind the Mogadishu hotel blasts. It was a well planned Mujahedeen operation,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabaab military operations, told Reuters.
The first explosion struck shortly after 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) as Mr Ongeri got up to speak. Volleys of gunshots erupted as local and foreign journalists ducked behind pillars, velvet red chairs and cameras. Mohamud, who had been staying at the hotel since being elected on Monday, was unfazed and Ongeri continued his speech saying: “I believe this is the price of peace.” Seven-and-a-half minutes later, a second explosion erupted. The attacks on the newly built Jazeera Palace Hotel near Mogadishu Airport and one of the securest places in Mogadishu underscores the security challenges facing the new Somali leader whose election was hailed by many as a way to end 20 years of violent anarchy.
A journalist accompanying Ongeri said she had seen “pieces of meat flying all over the place” after the first blast. “Then I saw a second guy shooting as he stormed towards the hotel,” said Jamila Mohammed, who was outside the hotel when the assailants struck. Another witness told Reuters that the severed leg of one of the suicide bombers wearing a white sneaker could be seen just outside the hotel’s gate where AMISOM armoured vehicles were parked, at least one of which was splattered with blood. A severed head lay in a large crater in the road dozens of metres (yards) away from the hotel, which overlooks the Indian Ocean.
President Mohamud’s election by Somali lawmakers on Monday was hailed by his supporters as a vote for change in the war-ridden Horn of Africa country that has lacked effective central government since 1991. Although he is relatively new to politics, the former academic faces old problems: a stubborn Islamist insurgency, acrimonious clan politics, rampant corruption and maritime piracy.