Car bomb explodes near Somalian leader

President is unhurt, but eight are killed

September 19, 2006|By Edmund Sanders | Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The transitional president of Somalia narrowly escaped assassination yesterday when a car bomb exploded as he left a converted grain silo that serves as the nation's makeshift parliament.

President Abdullahi Yusuf was unharmed. However, eight people, including his brother and several security guards, were killed by the blast in Baidoa, the nation's provisional capital.

The attack marked the second-consecutive day of bloodshed in the Horn of Africa nation, which has been without a functioning government since 1991. On Sunday, gunmen in Mogadishu shot to death an Italian nun and her bodyguard outside a children's hospital.

Despite years of instability and violence, car bombs have been rare in Somalia, leading local officials to immediately blame foreign militants. One government minister described the bombing as an "al-Qaida-type attempt." No group immediately claimed responsibility.

"We hear about this type of thing in Iraq, but not Somalia," said Abdul Fatah Ibrahim Rasheed, a member of parliament. "This is something that is very new for us."

The blast comes at a particularly sensitive time for the government. Yusuf's administration is attempting to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the Islamic Courts Union, which seized control of Mogadishu early this year. Some officials in Baidoa accused the union of participating in the attack.

"It will jeopardize the peace process if it becomes very obvious that the Islamists are behind this terrorist act," Foreign Minister Ismail Hurre Buba Hurre told reporters during a visit in Nairobi.

Islamist officials denied any knowledge of the attack.

"We know nothing about it, but we are very sorry for anything that hurts the security of Somalia," said Sheik Mukhtar Robow Ali, the deputy security chief for the courts union, an alliance of religious leaders formed in an attempt to bring order to Mogadishu.

Both sides are to meet again in Khartoum next month to continue negotiations.

Witnesses said the bomb, apparently hidden in a small car outside the parliament compound, detonated as the president's motorcade left the facility. Yusuf had just addressed lawmakers, urging them to put aside their differences and endorse his newly reshuffled Cabinet.

There were conflicting reports about whether the car was parked or driven by a suicide bomber. In an radio address last night, Yusuf said authorities had recovered the remains of a person they believe may have been the suicide driver.

The blast ignited at least seven nearby cars and tossed wreckage more than 100 yards to the doorstep of the parliament building, witnesses said. Inside, panicked lawmakers screamed and fled the building. Security guards fired into the air, adding to the sense of chaos, witnesses said.

"We thought we were under attack," said Ahmed Omar Gagale, a member of parliament. "It sounded like mortars, especially when some of the other cars began to explode from the fire."

After being formed in 2004 during an internationally sponsored conference, the transitional government opted to locate in Baidoa rather than Mogadishu because of continuing violence in the nation's traditional capital.

Since Islamists drove out the warlords, security in Mogadishu has improved drastically, while bloodshed in Baidoa is rising. In July, gunmen shot a government minister as he left a mosque in Baidoa after prayers.

"It's getting very scary there," said Asha Ahmed Abdalla, a member of parliament.

Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi also has faced assassination attempts, escaping two attacks last year.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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