Shabaab insurgents deny responsibility for Mogadishu suicide bombing

A spokesman for Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels denied on Friday that the group was behind a Mogadishu suicide bombing that killed at least 22 people, saying "it was a plot by the government itself."


REUTERS - A spokesman for Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels denied on Friday that the group was behind a suicide bombing at a graduation ceremony in the capital that killed at least 22 people, including three government ministers.

Students and their parents were among the dead in Thursday’s attack, the worst in the failed Horn of Africa state for five months.

Suspicion had fallen on the al Shabaab insurgent group which is battling the Western-backed government to impose its harsh interpretation of Islamic law across the country.

“We declare that al Shabaab did not mastermind that explosion ... we believe it is a plot by the government itself,” al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters. “It is not in the nature of al Shabaab to target innocent people.”

Rage said serious political rifts had emerged between senior figures in President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s fragile administration, which controls just a few areas of Mogadishu.

“You know there is a power struggle ... that has been going on a long time,” he said.

“We know some so-called government officials left the scene of the explosion just minutes before the attack. That is why it is clear that they were behind the killing.”

The United States accuses al Shabaab, the only Somali rebel group to have launched suicide attacks in the past, of being al Qaeda’s proxy in the drought-ravaged country.

Western security agencies say Somalia has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the impoverished region and beyond.

New offensive

Witnesses said Thursday’s bombing at the city’s Shamo Hotel was carried out by a man disguised as a veiled woman.

He entered the ceremony, packed with graduates of Benadir University’s medical school, their relatives and government officials before approaching the podium and blowing himself up.

In June, al Shabaab said it was behind a suicide bombing in Baladwayne town that killed Somalia’s security minister and at least 30 other people. Then in September it struck the heart of the African Union’s main military base in Mogadishu with twin suicide car bombs, killing 17 peacekeepers.

Ahmed’s government had been preparing for a broad new offensive against the rebels in recent weeks, and Thursday’s carnage looked sure to heighten its frustration over delayed pledges of military and financial support from Western donors.

Fighting has killed at least 19,000 Somali civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes. The chaos has also spilled offshore, where heavily armed Somali pirates have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.

Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke denounced Thursday’s attack as “beneath contempt”, but he said it would not deter the government from fighting the extremists.

“The loss of our ministers is disastrous, but it is an outrage to target the graduation of medical students and kill those whose only aim in life was to help those most in need in our stricken country,” Sharmarke said in a statement.

“This extremist violence is no different from that which we see in other troubled parts of the world, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we call for urgent help from the international community to prevent the further rise of al Shabaab.”

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