Shabaab targets presidential palace with suicide assault

Over the weekend, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, launched a coordinated suicide assault on Somalia’s presidential palace compound in Mogadishu.

On Saturday (July 14), a suicide car bomb was detonated near a checkpoint close to the presidential compound after armed guards fired at the vehicle. An attack team then tried to wrestle control over the checkpoint to enter the compound before a second suicide car bomb was detonated on the compound’s defenders.

Several people were killed in the strike, however, the numbers vary from three to ten. Somali authorities have said that only five militants in total were involved in the assault and that three gunmen were killed in the firefights.

Through its Shahada News Agency, Shabaab claimed credit for the attack. The jihadist group confirms several details, including the use of two suicide bombers as well as that it was targeting both the presidential palace and the nearby SYL hotel. That said, Shabaab heavily inflated the total number of killed and wounded.

This is not the first time Shabaab has targeted the presidential compound this year. In February, at least 40 people were killed after a similar assault began with two suicide car bombings on the compound.

Saturday’s bombings came only one week after another coordinated suicide operation in the Somali capital. On July 7, two suicide bombings and a subsequent attack team targeted Somalia’s Ministry of Interior. The car bombs were used to soften the perimeter around the government building before the assault team stormed the building. At least 10 people were killed and another 20 were wounded.

The coordinated suicide strike is a common tactic used by Shabaab on various hard targets within Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia. It routinely targets governmental buildings and popular hotels with this method.

Shabaab has been resurgent in Somalia since losing ground to a combined African Union (AU) and Somali offensive in 2011. The jihadist group has slowly but methodically retaken several towns and villages that it lost in both central and southern Somalia – often after AU or Somali forces withdrew. In addition, Shabaab remains a potent threat against both African Union and Somali military bases in central and southern Somalia. It also retains the ability to strike within heavily fortified areas of Mogadishu, as seen time and time again.

The al Qaeda branch also remains a serious danger inside northern Kenya, where it has undertaken several assaults and improvised explosive device attacks and even increased its operational tempo there last year.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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