MOGADISHU // Nine Al Shabab militants, most of them wearing suicide vests, stormed Somalia's main court complex yesterday while the supreme court was in session, killing at least seven people and themselves.
The assault was the most serious in Mogadishu since Al Shabab militants were forced out of the capital in August 2011.
The group controls far less territory today than it once did, and its influence appears to be on the decline. But yesterday's attack proved that the extremists remain capable of pulling off well-planned and audacious assaults.
The attack on the court complex began at around 12.30pm, sparking running battles with police and army forces.
Two bomb blasts were heard and gunmen were seen on the roof of a court building firing shots. Police said five people had been killed at the entrance to the court.
The militants also took an unknown number of hostages during the siege. Many other government workers and civilians in the court complex - a confusing labyrinth of buildings - hid in fearing for their lives.
Western officials knew that the militants had been planning something major. On Friday, the British foreign office released a travel advisory for Somalia that warned of a high threat of terrorism. "We continue to believe that terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks in Mogadishu," it said.
The complex and sustained nature of the assault on the court system suggested the militants had hoped to inflict severe casualties. Later, a suicide car bomber rammed a vehicle carrying Turkish citizens.
On a Twitter feed believed to belong to the militants, Al Shabab appeared to take credit for the attack. A posting said five militants from the "Martyrdom Brigade" had taken part in the "daring" attack.
Abdikarim Hussein Guled, the interior minister, said nine militants attacked the court complex, and six of them had detonated suicide vests. The other three were shot and killed, he said.
The prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, said the "pointless and pathetic act" would have no effect on the government's commitment to progress.
The president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, said the enemy of Somalia and "of all mankind" was trying to prevent the country from prospering.
"I want the terrorist to know that our country, Somalia, is moving and will keep moving forward, and will not be prevented from achieving the ultimate noble goal, a peaceful and stable Somalia, by a few desperate terrorists," he said.