Shabaab targets Somali police chief in Mogadishu suicide bombing

On the evening of April 22, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, struck a popular restaurant in Lido Beach in Mogadishu in an attempt to assassinate the chief of the Somali Police Force, Abdi Hassan Mohamed Hijaar. The police commander was accompanied by 11 members of the Somali Parliament at the time of the attack. 

Local reporters describe the assault as “complex” as the terrorist organization conducted a suicide bombing of the crowded restaurant, then followed the explosion with a strike by gunmen. Hijaar, along with several other Somali government officials, were breaking their Ramadan fast at the restaurant at the time of the attack.

Shabaab frequently employs the tactic of suicide operations, especially upon popular hotels in Mogadishu, using the shock and chaos created by the suicide bombing to enable its gunmen to then enter the fray.  

According to local sources, Hijaar and other Somali government officials were unharmed in the assault, indicating that Shabaab failed to accomplish its objective. However, at least six people, all civilians, were killed in the attack. Local officials stated at least another seven people were also injured.

Shabaab was quick to claim the suicide bombing via its Shahada News Agency and local radio stations. According to the jihadist group, it was specifically targeting “the grouping of apostate government officials” at the restaurant. 

According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, Friday’s blast marks the group’s 12th successful or attempted suicide bombing so far this year. The vast majority of these have occurred inside Mogodishu. 

Shabaab further stated it “killed and wounded 44 people,” including an alleged government official, though the group routinely inflates the casualty numbers of its attacks. Local media has also denied that any government personnel were injured. 

Shabaab often uses suicide bombings in its political assassinations. For instance, the group killed Somali lawmaker Amina Mohamed Abdi in a suicide bombing in central Somalia last month. Last year, it also attempted to assassinate the governor of Somalia’s Bay region in a similar blast. While in 2020, two regional governors, of Puntland’s Nugaal and Mudug regions, were killed by Shabaab’s suicide bombers. 

Targeting Somalia’s Election Process

Friday’s suicide assault once again demonstrates that Mogadishu is not safe from insurgent attacks. Shabaab continues to attempt to undermine the federal government by illustrating its inability to protect its population and secure its territory. In this regard, Friday’s suicide bombing was just the latest in a recent series of attacks. 

On Monday, Shabaab claimed credit for a mortar assault on the Somali parliament building in Mogadishu. Though no one was killed in the strike, at least six were injured. The offensive occurred while the newly elected parliamentarians were approving procedures for electing the speakers. 

The mortar blasts, like the consecutive attacks at the end of March, represent yet another Shabaab attempt to undermine the Somali election process. Friday’s suicide assault can also be seen within the context of Shabaab’s attempts at disrupting the process. 

As the election process continues, with various delays, Shabaab will continue to muster its forces to disrupt the elections across the country. Government officials, including local politicians, are likely to continue to be targets of Shabaab’s violence.

Despite some setbacks in recent years, Shabaab continues to be one of al Qaeda’s most effective branches. It maintains significant control over much of southern Somalia and retains the ability to strike in Mogadishu, Kenya, where it also controls territory, and against heavily fortified bases in both Somalia and Kenya.

Though its fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, it has weathered numerous offensives from an array of local, regional, and international actors, including the United States.

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