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Government minister and 20 others killed in suicide bombing

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-18

A suicide bombing at the Hotel Medina in Beledweyne, north of Mogadishu, killed 20 people on Thursday, including the internal security minister, Omar Hashi Aden. The bomber had driven a car laden with explosives to the hotel.

AFP - Somalia's security minister was among 20 people killed Thursday in a suicide bombing that the country's president blamed on Al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents.
   
The blast which ripped through a hotel in the town of Beledweyne, near the Ethiopian border, killed minister Omar Hashi Aden and 19 others, including several government officials among his entourage, officials said.
   
The assassination followed a day of fierce clashes on Wednesday between Islamist insurgents and government forces that killed at least 26 people in Mogadishu, including the capital's police commander.
   
President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed blamed the attack on the hardline Islamic Shebab, which has stepped up a campaign to overthrow his shaky administration since early May.
   
"This was a suicide attack against officials. This country has been invaded by terrorists who do not want the Somali flag to fly over this nation," Sharif told a news conference at a heavily guarded presidential palace in Mogadishu.
   
Sharif, a moderate, has repeatedly warned of a risk of Al-Qaeda setting up a "strategic zone" for its network in Somalia, through its backing for the Shebab.
   
The Shebab claimed responsibility in a statement issued several hours after the blast.
   
In neighbouring Kenya, Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke said the attack was carried out by foreigners.
   
"This was a cowardly act carried out by terrorists affiliated to Al-Qaeda. Somalis have no expertise to carry out this attack, this was the work of foreigners," he said, calling for international aid to shore up government forces.
   
"The death toll is now at 20, including top government officials and security forces who were guarding the minister," Abdi Sheikh Guled, a local elder told AFP.  
   
Abdulahi Rage, another elder, gave a similar toll adding that 30 others had been wounded.
   
The head of the pro-government Islamic Courts militia, Ibrahim Maow, told reporters in Beledweyne that Somalia's former ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdulkarim Ibrahim Lakanyo, was among the dead.
   
Aden had been in his native town since earlier this week as part of a bid to claw back ground lost to the Shebab.
   
Hotel worker Ahmed Abdi said the suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden Toyota car up to the Hotel Medina as the mininster and his delegation were preparing to leave.
   
"His body is lying at the reception," he said.
   
The blast left a thick pall of smoke over the town, about 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Mogadishu, and badly damaged the hotel, where witnesses saw charred bodies among the debris.
   
"This was a pre-planned attack, but we don't know who carried it out," Maow said.
   
Aden's killing follows that of Mogadishu's top police commander, slain on Wednesday when at least 26 people lost their lives in the capital, half of them when a mortar shell hit a mosque.
   
Sharif is a former Islamist rebel who joined a UN-brokered peace process last year and was elected by parliament in January. His government forces have been battling the hardline Shebab who want to impose a stricter form of Sharia law.
   
Nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 122,000 displaced since the military flare-up on May 7, bringing the total number of refugees inside the country to 1.3 million, according to UN figures.
   
Meanwhile, fighting raged Thursday in the capital's northern districts, where government forces have been trying to regain ground lost to the insurgents, an AFP reporter said.
   
Somalia has been gripped by civil wars and insurgencies and bereft of stable government since the overthrow of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Date created : 2009-06-18

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