al-Qaida linked Shebab rebels stage regular attacks in the capital as part of their fight against government
Somalia’s Al-Qaida-linked Shebab militants on Tuesday blasted their way into the higher education ministry with a car bomb before storming the building, killing at least six people.
Police and witnesses said the car bomb caused a huge explosion which allowed the gunmen to force their way shooting into the fortified building.
“Six people have been killed, most of them civilians, but the ministry building is secure now and government forces are in full control,” said police official Ahmed Weli Malim, after a gun battle lasting around an hour.
“A car loaded with explosives rammed the gate,” police official Mohamed Dahir said.
Witness Idil Malim reported seeing several people wounded or killed.
“There were several people lying dead at the scene,” he said.
Shebab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab claimed responsiblity, boasting that their gunmen had been in “fully in control” of the ministry, as well as entering a neighbouring building housing the oil ministry.
As government forces retook the compound and fighting ended, it was not immediately clear what happened to the gunmen, and whether they had been killed in the assault or had managed to escape.
The building is in the K5 district of the capital, which has been hit by a string of similar attacks in recent months.
– Complex attack –
A car bombing to force entry into fortified buildings followed by an armed raid has become a trademark tactic of the hardline Islamists.
Somalia has been unstable since the collapse of Siad Barre’s hardline regime in 1991, and the country’s new government is being supported by a 22,000-strong African Union force that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
Shebab fighters have carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries, notably Kenya and Uganda, in response to their participation in the AU force.
It carried out its deadliest attack yet earlier this month, when Shebab gunmen massacred 148 people in a day-long siege of a university in Kenya’s northeastern town of Garissa.
The attack on the university was Kenya’s worst since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, and the Shebab’s bloodiest massacre.
The Shebab later warned of a “long, gruesome war” unless Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia, as well as warning the government in Mogadishu it would continue to attack them on home soil.
Last month Shehab gunmen in Mogadishu stormed the fortified Maka al Mukarama hotel, used by politicians, diplomats and businessmen.
Despite losing significant territory in recent months the Shebab group, whose name means “youth” in Arabic, still manages to launch frequent attacks as part of its fight to overthrow the government.
Last week the government in Mogadishu issued bounties for 11 top leaders of the Shebab, with $250,000 offered for the extremist’s chief, Ahmad Umar.