x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Somalia's new president survives Shebab assassination bid

Somalia's president survived an assassination bid yesterday when bomb blasts claimed by Al Shabab rocked the Mogadishu hotel where he was meeting Kenya's foreign minister.

MOGADISHU // Somalia's president survived an assassination bid yesterday when bomb blasts claimed by Al Shabab rocked the Mogadishu hotel where he was meeting Kenya's foreign minister.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, just two days in to his job as the country's leader, was unharmed after two blasts went off outside the hotel, but three soldiers were killed in what appeared to be an attack by three suicide bombers.

"There has been a blast around the hotel where the president was. The president is safe. All the people who were inside the hotel are safe," Ali Houmed, spokesman for the African Union mission in Somalia (Amisom) said.

A Ugandan soldier from the regional force and two Somali troops were killed in the attack, police said.

Mr Hassan, whose election on Monday was widely welcomed as a boost to the country's peace prospects, was meeting Sam Ongeri Kenyan, Kenya's foreign minister, at the time of the explosions, a ministry source in Nairobi said.

The Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked group which has been waging an insurgency against Somalia's government for five years, was quick to claim responsibility for the attack.

"We are responsible for the attack against the so-called president and the delegation," the group's spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said.

On Tuesday, Al Shabab called the UN-backed process in which newly designated lawmakers elected Mr Hassan was illegitimate.

"Nothing personal, but the whole process is like an enemy project," Mr Rage had said.

Amisom troops have wrested control of most of Mogadishu back from Al Shabab in recent months but the group has continued to attack foreign and government targets, mostly with suicide bombers.

Mr Rage said such attacks would continue "until the liberation of Somalia", where Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti have sent troops to support the government and battle the insurgency.

Mr Hassan unexpectedly defeated the incumbent president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in Monday's vote in what was interpreted as a sign that Somali leaders wanted to break with the corruption-tainted outgoing administration.

The US State Department welcomed the peace activist's election as heralding "new era of Somali governance" while other western powers also hailed the vote as a major milestone in efforts to restore peace.

Somalia has not had a credible central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Siad Barre but Mr Hassan's election came as a semblance of normality returned to Mogadishu and hopes of a recovery grew.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Hassan promised to bring Somalia back into the international fold, but he inherits the insurgency, a humanitarian crisis, feeble institutions and deeply entrenched tribalism.

Yesterday's attack dampened hopes that Shabab would be more inclined to sit down at the negotiating table with the new president than his predecessor.

As a former top leader in the Islamic Courts Union that overran the country in 2006 and gave birth to Al Shabab, Mr Sharif was always considered a traitor by Islamist hardliners after taking the top job in 2009.