Mogadishu bombings pile pressure on peacekeepers

The African Union’s Somalia mission reeled on Friday from twin suicide attacks on its headquarters, as Islamist insurgents to pursue their campaign until the peacekeepers leave.

At least 17 peacekeepers were killed on Thursday when suicide bombers from al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-inspired group, rammed stolen United Nations vehicles into the mission’s headquarters at Mogadishu airport.

The deadliest attack on the mission, named Amisom, since it deployed in the lawless Horn of Africa country in March 2007 drew a barrage of international condemnation as well as al-Shabaab warnings of more to come.

“I condemn this terrorist attack in the strongest terms,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in New York.

Other backers of Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed also expressed shock at the attack, which killed at least 10 Burundian and four Uganda soldiers and wounded many more.

Ethiopia, which ended an ill-fated two-year occupation of Somalia in January, has always said it was ready to move back in should Muslim extremists threaten to take over.

“The brazenness of the attacks on Amisom headquarters should, if anything, point to the sense of urgency with which the international community must bring its pressure to bear on the murderous campaign” of the Islamists, the Ethiopian government said in a statement.

The attack revealed the vulnerability of Amisom, killing the Burundian deputy commander of the force and lightly wounding his boss, who was preparing to host negotiations in the compound when the blasts went off.

The African Union is trying to convince member states to contribute troops and make good on an initial pledge to build a force of 8 000 men, almost twice the size of the current deployment.

For two years, al-Shabaab and its allies focused their war effort against Ethiopia. But since its pull-out in January, the militias have made Amisom’s departure their priority, accusing the peacekeepers of being the foreguard of a Christian crusade.

With the country embroiled in permanent strife pitting a complex patchwork of factions with multiple and changing allegiances against each other, the African force has struggled to make any impact.

Its main function has been to act as the last lifeline of Sharif’s embattled transitional government, mainly patrolling a limited perimeter around key institutions in the capital.

Amisom has nevertheless been drawn into the conflict, exchanging heavy mortar fire with insurgents targeting its bases from densely populated urban areas.

While al-Shabaab is believed to enjoy limited support in the Somali population, the civilian casualties caused by Amisom fire have all but dashed its own hopes of building local credibility.

“We call on Christian nations whose governments are sending their sons to Somalia to stop ... We warned you before and we are warning you now: don’t send them to hell in Somalia,” said al-Shabaab spokesperson Ali Mohamud Rage.

He claimed the double bombing of the AU headquarters was in retaliation for the killing two days earlier in a US land and air operation of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan wanted by the United States for deadly 2002 anti-Israeli attacks in Mombasa.

Nabhan was one of al-Qaeda’s pointmen in the region and had links with al-Shabaab but experts argue the Amisom attacks had most likely been planned long before his death.—AFP

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