Al-Shabaab militants claim responsibility for suicide attacks on hotel where Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was at press conference
Somalia‘s newly elected president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has escaped injury after suicide bombers attacked a hotel in Mogadishu where he was holding a news conference with visiting Kenyan officials.
Islamist militants from al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, which served as a deadly reminder of the challenges facing the 57-year-old professor as he seeks to end more than two decades of conflict.
A spokesman for Mogadishu’s mayor said two suicide bombers had blown themselves up at the gate of the hotel and at least five people had been killed. There were reports that a third suicide bomb had failed to detonate.
Mohamud was elected by MPs on Monday, becoming the first new leader to be chosen inside Somalia since the military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Mohamud defeated the incumbent Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, whose UN-backed transitional administration was accused of being corrupt and inept.
After Mohamud’s election, al-Shabaab branded him a traitor and described the vote as a ploy by the west to boost its economic and strategic interests.
“The fact that Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is not an Islamist in the mould of his predecessor will give an additional edge to al-Shabaab’s continued opposition,” said J Peter Pham, director of the Africa programme at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “The euphoria surrounding [his] appointment â€¦ needs to be tempered by recognition of the realities confronting him.”
Al-Shabaab had threatened Mohamud, who founded the Peace and Development party in 2011, in the past. “Anybody who lives here in Mogadishu always lives under enormous risk. We have a coping mechanism but it doesn’t always work,” he told the Guardian in an interview last month.
Since al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu last year after fierce battles with the African Union peacekeeping force Amisom, the city has experienced something of a rebirth, with new buildings rising among the ruins and Somalis returning from abroad to open businesses.
Although weakened, the al-Qaida-linked militant group still controls the southern port of Kismayo and launches regular hit-and-run attacks on areas under Amisom and Somali army control, including inside Mogadishu.
On Tuesday, Amisom said Somali government forces, backed by its troops, had seized the town of Harbole as they pushed from Afmadow to Kismayo.
However, despite the military push, some observers are wary of predictions of al-Shabaab’s demise.
Pham said al-Shabaab would remain a threat to Somalia and neighbouring countries even in the event of an attack on Kismayo.
“When and if that action succeeds, the defeat of al-Shabaab as an insurgency may well have the unintended consequence of turning the hardcore elements of the movement â€¦ into the very type of fully fledged terrorist group that â€¦ it could not be so long as it also had to play the role of an insurgency-cum-territorial administration.”
â€¢ Additional reporting by David Smith in Johannesburg