Five Somali officials or soldiers and nine gunmen were killed on Friday in a suicide attack by al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants against the presidential palace in Mogadishu, police said.
“We have counted around nine of the attackers who have been killed by the security forces and five Somali officials, among them soldiers,” Somali police official Abdirahman Mohamed said, according to AFP.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was not harmed in the assault on the heavily fortified compound, known as Villa Somalia.
“President just called me to say he’s unharmed. Attack on Villa Somalia had failed. Sadly some lives lost,” U.N. Special Representative Nick Kay wrote on his official Twitter feed.
There were conflicting reports about what happened. Al-Shabaab militants said that they carried out the suicide “commando” attack.
“Our commandos have attacked the so-called presidential palace in order to kill or arrest those who who are inside,” al-Shabaab military spokesman Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abu Musab told AFP.
“We are still holding some of the buildings and the fighting is continuing. The commandos wanted to seize all of it,” he said.
A government official, who declined to be named, said the militants reached a mosque in the center of the compound, where the president usually prays on Friday. The chief of staff of the office of the prime minister and a former chief of intelligence were killed, along with six militants, he said.
He said the president was not at the mosque at the time of the attack although he had been planning to go.
“That is where the president normally goes to pray,” he said. “So they were aiming at the president I guess.”
A death toll could not be immediately confirmed. Ambulance sources said they were denied access to the scene and that the casualties were carried in ambulances belonging to African peacekeepers.
Islamist militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
In the past few weeks, the Somali capital of Mogadishu has been hit by a series of suicide bomb attacks claimed by al-Shabaab, who were pushed out of the city in mid-2011 but have continued to wage a sustained guerrilla campaign.
The strike was another reminder of the threat still posed by the rebels and how Somalia’s fragile government is struggling to impose order more than two decades after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre tipped the country into chaos.
Western nations involved in Somalia worry it could sink back into chaos and provide a Launchpad for Islamist militancy.
[With AFP and Reuters]