Al Shabab militants killed 19 people Sunday in bomb attacks that targeted Mogadishu's main court complex and an aid convoy, underscoring the fact that Somalia’s weakened Al Qaeda-allied militia has not yet been beaten.
The first of three bomb attacks exploded just before noon local time Sunday outside the Mogadishu courthouse. Gunmen camouflaged in Somali Army uniforms then stormed the buildings and opened fire. It was the worst day of killings in the capital since late last year, and spoke to the militants' ongoing capabilities despite a series of recent setbacks.
“These attacks appear to have been coordinated and well-planned,” says a political source close to the Somali government.
"It seems clear that they wanted to target symbols of Somalia's political and judicial progress in the past year, and thought that killing lawyers and court officials would appeal to people they think still support them," the source says, adding that "I think in fact that that support is waning with every one of these attacks."
As state security forces fought to contain the insurgents, several lawyers, court officers, and bystanders died in the gunbattle, sources in Mogadishu reported. A second bomb was detonated during the firefight.
Two of the counsels killed were Mohamed Mahmud Afrah, a law professor and head of the Somali Lawyers’ Association, and Karim Hussein Gorod.
They had represented Abdiaziz Abdinur, a Somali journalist jailed after he interviewed a woman who had been raped by Somali soldiers in Mogadishu. Mr. Abdinur was released last month after an international outcry.
Casualty figures not yet clear
While as many as 19 people were reported to have been killed in the blasts, one hospital worker tells the Monitor that casualty figures were not yet clear.
“We have eight bodies in the morgue here and there are another three people who are critically wounded,” the hospital worker says, refusing to give his name because he is not authorized to talk to the media. “There are others in other hospitals but I don’t know how many. It has been a long time since we have seen this level of casualties here.”
Three of the gunmen who stormed the court complex wore suicide vests that they detonated, witnesses reported, but this could not immediately be verified.
Many of those killed at the court wore Somali Army uniforms, but several were reported to be Al Shabab agents disguised as state soldiers to gain access to the buildings during the confusion.
Al Shabab has been pushed out of most of the key towns that it controlled in southern Somalia after a stepped-up offensive by African Union peacekeepers allied with Kenyan and Ethiopian troops. But its commanders have vowed to strike back with insurgent-style tactics including car bombs, suicide attacks, and roadside bombs.
"We carried out a superb intense mission in Mogadishu today,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, an Al Shabab spokesman, said Sunday. “We assigned five special mujahideen for the court. Four of them entered and killed the people inside. The other mujahid with his car bomb exploded when government soldiers gathered at the gate.”