Somalia’s president narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Monday by a suicide car bomber outside the parliament building in Baidoa, officials said. The blast and a subsequent gunbattle left 11 people dead, including the president’s brother.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which Foreign Minister Ismail Mohamed Hurre said was the first in Somalia by a suicide bomber.
“This has the fingerprints of al-Qaida all over it,” Hurre told The Associated Press in Nairobi, Kenya.
If it is linked to an Islamic militia that has seized control of much of southern Somalia, it could cause peace talks between the two sides to fall apart. A spokesman for the Islamic group denied it had any role.
“The perpetrators of Baidoa blast are enemies of Somali people and Islamic courts have no hand in it,” said the spokesman, Abdirahman Mudey.
The bomb exploded outside the parliament building where President Abdullahi Yusuf had given a speech about 10 minutes earlier, said Mohamed Adawe, a journalist who witnessed the blast. Baidoa is the only town controlled by the government.
Hurre said investigators determined the blast was a suicide attack because of the condition of the body of the presumed attacker.
Suspected accomplices killed
Yusuf’s bodyguards chased suspected accomplices of the bomber, killing six of them in a gunbattle. The five other dead — including Yusuf’s brother — were in the presidential motorcade, officials said.
“This explosion was intended to kill the president, but he escaped and he is safe,” government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.
Eight cars were burned in the blast, including three from Yusuf’s convoy.
The blast came a day after a nun was gunned down outside a hospital where she worked in Mogadishu, about 150 miles from Baidoa. There was no claim of responsibility, but many fear the shooting could be linked to worldwide Muslim anger toward Pope Benedict XVI.
In a speech last week, the pope quoted a medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of Islam’s founder as “evil and inhuman.”
Hurre said the government believes the nun’s killing and the car bombing have “the hallmarks of al-Qaida.” The terror organization’s leader, Osama bin Laden, has called Somalia a battleground in his war on the West.
“Osama bin Laden has made it clear he wants to do harm to the government and to the president in particular,” Hurre said. He added that the government believes the same people were responsible for both attacks. He did not elaborate.
Islamic rule in Mogadishu
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, pulling the country into anarchy.
The current government was established two years ago with the support of the United Nations, but it has failed to assert any power outside its base in Baidoa.
An Islamic militia seized control of Mogadishu in recent months and has extended its reach over much of southern Somalia, in direct challenge to the government.
The militia has imposed strict religious rule in the areas under its sway, and its Islamic courts are credited with bringing a semblance of order to the country. Many in the West, however, fear a Taliban-style regime could emerge.