Islamist rebels attack UN compound in Mogadishu
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- Companies and organisations: African Union | United Nations | Denel
- MOGADISHU — Islamist militants carried out a deadly assault on a United Nations (UN) compound in the Somali capital on Wednesday, dealing a blow to fragile security gains that have allowed a slow return of foreign aid workers and diplomats.
South African state-owned arms company Denel said two of its staff were killed in the raid, though it was still trying on Wednesday afternoon to confirm details.
Somali Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled said four foreign UN security staff and four local guards were killed in the drawn-out gun battle that left seven insurgent fighters dead.
A UN spokesman said casualty numbers were still being verified.
The assault, claimed by Islamist al-Shabaab, began before midday when a car bomb exploded outside the UN Development Programme (UNDP) base. Rebel gunmen then forced their way into the compound and battled security guards.
The African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, which sent soldiers and armoured vehicles to the site, said the compound, which houses several buildings, was under the control of friendly troops after a gunfight that lasted more than 90 minutes.
It was the first notable attack on UN premises by al-Shabaab since it was driven out of Mogadishu in fighting with AU and Somali government forces about two years ago.
More than 1-million Somalis live in a state of humanitarian emergency or crisis, according to the UN, which has only recently started building up offices and international staff in Somalia after some security improvements.
“The UN, a merchant of death and a satanic force of evil, has a long, inglorious record of spreading nothing but poverty, dependency and disbelief,” al-Shabaab said on its Twitter feed.
Militants have launched grenade strikes and similar low-level attacks on UN bases in the past, but not on this scale.
‘Here to stay’
One UN official said some Western nations that had been keen to support the Western-leaning government elected last year had played down dangers posed by al-Shabaab and its ability to infiltrate the security forces and attack the capital.
“This is part of the consequence of over-optimism in some Western nations that has overshadowed the need to look at deeper problems before rolling out any kind of UN mission,” said the official, who follows Somalia closely but is not authorised to talk to the media.
He said the government had not done enough to overhaul its security forces.
The top UN official in Somalia, Nicholas Kay, said there were lessons to be learnt but that the UN would not be deterred from its mission.
Asked whether UN staff would be evacuated from Mogadishu, Mr Kay said: “No. The UN is here to help and we are here to stay.”
The UNDP compound is located just a few hundred metres from the airport, which serves as the main base for the AU peacekeeping force battling insurgents across southern Somalia.
The Somali government condemned the attack and offered “deepest sympathy to all victims”.
“Today all Somalia stands shoulder to shoulder with Unsom,” Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid said on Twitter, referring to the new UN Somalia assistance programme.
Bystanders reported several smaller blasts inside the compound during the gunfight, though it was not clear if these were caused by gunmen blowing themselves up or other explosives.
The raid appeared to be a copycat of a strike on Mogadishu’s law courts in April, when gunmen detonated suicide vests during a gun battle with security forces.
AU forces and government troops drove al-Shabaab rebels out of the coastal capital in 2011, but militants have kept up guerrilla-style attacks from rural bases.
The overthrow of a dictator in 1991 plunged Somalia into two decades of violent turmoil, first at the hands of clan warlords and then Islamist militants, who have steadily lost ground since 2011 under pressure from the AU military offensive.
BY ABDI SHEIKH, JUNE 19 2013, 17:13