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At least 10 people were killed and dozens were wounded in a suicide bombing at Somalia's national theater in Mogadishu, marring the relative peace that the city has been experiencing as of late after years of conflict.
The Islamic militant group Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place during a high-profile event celebrating the first anniversary of Somalia's new national television broadcaster, reports Reuters. Al Shabab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said that the attack was aimed at government officials, including the prime minister, who was in attendance. "We were behind the theater blast. We targeted the infidel ministers and legislators, and they were the casualties of today," he said.
Among those reportedly killed in the attack were the Somali Olympic Committee president, Aden Yabarow Wiish, and the head of Somalia's soccer federation, Said Mohamed Nur. The head of Mogadishu's ambulance service told the Associated Press that the country's national planning minister was among the injured.
"The blast happened as musicians were singing and spectators were clapping for them," Salah Jimale, who was in attendance at the theater but received only light scratches, told the AP. "Huge smoke made the whole scene go dark. People screamed and soldiers suddenly started opening fire at the gate. Some wounded people escaped and ran away." The AP adds that the gunfire was from soldiers firing into the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd outside the theater.
The deadly bombing comes as Mogadishu, long associated with Islamist violence and civil war, has been experiencing something of a rebirth. As the Monitor reported in late February, Al Shabab has been in retreat in recent months. African Union and UN peacekeepers have pushed the militants out of the city, allowing residents who fled Al Shabab to return. And Kenyan and Ethiopian forces have been driving back Al Shabab forces elsewhere in the country, granting a much desired respite to the beleaguered citizenry.
Mogadishu's National Theater itself had only reopened in mid-March, after years of disuse during Al Shabab's strict Islamist rule. Reuters notes that it recently held its first concert in 20 years, "a sign of a marked improvement in security in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country."
"The city is returning to normal now. Thanks to Allah we can do business here again," said the Somali-American chairman of the new First Somali Bank, Liban Abdi Igal. The African Report writes that Mr. Igal is investing millions of dollars into the project. "I have returned here with optimism after seeing progress and revival," he said.
"I see so much difference as a longtime resident in Mogadishu," Mogadishu resident Abdiaziz Nur told Reuters. "I had never dreamed that I would either walk through Mogadishu's streets or drive my car at night, but now we feel glorified and proud."
Still, attacks in the city have not stopped, even with the relative peace. In early February, an Al Shabab car bomb in Mogadishu's government center left 15 people dead. And just a day after the National Theater's reopening concert, Al Shabab forces launched a mortar attack at the presidential palace, just 300 yards away from the theater. Today's bombing differs primarily in the high-profile nature of the event and people targeted.