A Shabaab suicide bomber killed at least five people in a suicide attack inside the presidential palace compound in the Somali capital of Mogadishu today.
Shabaab claimed credit for the suicide attack, which took place at the gate of the home of the speaker of parliament, which is also inside the compound. Somali officials said that four people were killed and 10 were wounded in the attack. Shabaab, in statements released on its Twitter account, HSM Press Office (or Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen), claimed that 16 people were killed.
“The highly exceptional operation took place inside the #TFG compound while apostate officials were holding a meeting there,” Shabaab stated in one tweet, referring to the Transitional Federal Government. “At least 16 confirmed dead so far, incl. senior officials, intelligence personnel, &TFG militia. Death toll is still rising,” the group said in another.
Shabaab claimed the attack was carried out to take revenge “for the defilement & desecration” of Korans.
“Martyrdom Operation is a just retribution for the defilement & desecration of the Holy Qur’an that was sanctioned by AMISOM & TFG 3 days ago,” Shabaab said on Twitter.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a Shabaab spokesman, told Reuters that the terror group carried out the attack and that similar operations would take place in the capital.
“What a victory, inside the so-called presidential palace, more explosions and bombers will follow,” Musab said.
Shabaab was able to penetrate security at the presidential compound one other time, in August 2010. The suicide bomber was killed after getting through the first gate.
In the past, Shabaab has shown it can penetrate security at the heavily protected areas in the capital and carry out deadly attacks. On Dec. 3, 2009, a Shabaab suicide bomber dressed as a woman detonated his vest at a graduation ceremony for medical students at a hotel in Mogadishu and killed 19 people, including the ministers of health, education, and higher education, and two reporters. Somalia’s minister of sports was wounded in the attack, and died on Feb. 12.
On Sept. 17, 2009, Shabaab suicide bombers penetrated security at an African Union base in Mogadishu and killed 21 people, including the deputy African Union commander and 16 other peacekeepers. Sheikh Indha’adde, a top Somali defense official and former ally of Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, is reported to have provided intelligence to the suicide bombers that allowed them to carry out the attack.
Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, have carried out more than 30 suicide attacks in Somalia since they sought to control the country in 2006 (the Islamic Courts Union was ousted from power a few months later, in an invasion by Ethiopian forces in December 2006). At least two of those suicide attacks were carried out by American citizens.
Shabaab has also executed a suicide attack outside Somalia’s borders: the July 11, 2010 double suicide attack in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 74 people. It was carried out by a suicide cell called the Saleh ali Nabhan Brigade, which is named after the al Qaeda leader who served as Shabaab’s military commander before he was killed in a US special operations raid in September 2009.
Shabaab and its Kenyan branch, the Muslim Youth Center, formally joined al Qaeda in February. The east African terror groups were closely tied to al Qaeda for years prior, however; Shabaab leaders had openly proclaimed their allegiance to al Qaeda long before the official merger.
Today’s attack takes place as the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, is pressing the terror group on three fronts. Ethiopian troops have advanced from the west, seizing the cities of Baidoa and Beledweyne over the past several months. Shabaab and Ethiopian forces clashed near the town of Luuq in the west last weekend; both sides claimed a major victory, but casualties on either side have been unconfirmed. The African Union stated that Ethiopian forces would withdraw from Baidoa and Beledweyne in April, and will be replaced by 2,500 peacekeepers from Burundi, Uganda, and Djibouti.
Burundian and Ugandan forces have taken control of Mogadishu after Shabaab abandoned much of the city last summer, and are slowly pressing westward to Afgoye, a Shabaab stronghold just 15 miles outside of the capital.
In the south, Kenyan forces are slowly moving northward toward the Shabaab strongholds of Afmadow and the port city of Kismayo. Kenyan troops have been fighting in Somalia since mid-October, and have only advanced to about 40 miles inside the country.
Shabaab still controls other major towns and cities along the coast between Kismayo and Mogadishu, including Jilib, Baraawe, and Merca.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.