Somali president secured after bomb

2012-09-13 22:23

Mogadishu - Somalia's new president has been moved to a secure compound after surviving a bomb attack at a hotel that dented hopes of change in the violence-scarred country, officials said on Thursday.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was the surprise winner of Monday's election in the poverty-stricken Horn of Africa nation that has been the battleground of warlords and Islamist militias for more than two decades.

The al-Qaeda linked Shabaab militia claimed responsibility for the apparent twin suicide bomb attacks on Wednesday outside the Mogadishu hotel where Hassan had been meeting a Kenyan delegation.

The new president was transferred to Villa Somalia, a highly fortified complex home to several Somali institutions, said sources and a spokesperson for the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), Colonel Ali Houmed.

A Somali security official confirmed Hassan was taken to the Villa, which still houses outgoing president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, hours after the attack.

The violence claimed by the Islamist extremists has dampened a mood of cautious optimism that followed Hassan's election.

"It was a hit within an area where the African Union has had control for some time," a Western diplomat told AFP. "It reminds everybody there is still work to be done."

"That attack yesterday was keeping with the way they operate - a quick attack soon after" any move, he said, referring to Monday's election.

The Shabaab, which has been waging a bloody insurgency against Somalia's Western-backed government, warned Tuesday that it considered illegitimate the UN-backed process which saw newly-designated lawmakers elect Hassan.

Near airport

Amisom troops have wrested control of most of Mogadishu from the Shabaab in recent months, but the insurgent group has continued to attack foreign and government targets, mostly with suicide bombers.

Shabaab has vowed its attacks will continue "until the liberation of Somalia", where Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti have all sent troops to support the government.

Hassan was unharmed in the attacks, but three soldiers - two Somalis and a Ugandan from Amisom - were killed in what appeared to be an attack by multiple suicide bombers in security forces' uniforms.

Two suicide bombers blew up at the gates of the Jazeera hotel and a third was shot by security forces while the new president was talking to journalists inside the hotel together with Kenyan Foreign Minister Sam Ongeri.

Western observers said on Wednesday they were surprised the new president was housed in a hotel - even if it was just a few hundred metres from the capital's extremely well-protected airport, which is Amisom's main base.

Hassan, who garnered 70% of the vote Monday, will remain at Villa Somalia with Sharif until the official handover Sunday.

Hassan was the first Somali president to be elected in Mogadishu since Siad Barre, whose ouster in 1991 plunged the country into civil war.

The various transitional presidents who have been in office since 2000 were all chosen in other countries for security reasons.

Hassan's election came after a long UN-backed political transition process aimed at restoring permanent institutions in Somalia, and it fuelled hopes that the country may be able to emerge from two decades of war.

"Yesterday's attack underlines what we all know, that al-Shabaab still have capabilities and presence in Mogadishu, and that game is not over yet," a European diplomat told AFP.