Three suicide car bombs exploded outside Somalia’s government base of Baidoa, killing eight people, including two policemen, officials said Thursday. One of the bombers was a veiled woman.
The bombings took place at a government checkpoint, exploding as police tried to check them, Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle told The Associated Press.
Jelle said the dead included two policemen, as well as the three drivers and three accomplices. He said there were non-Somalis among the dead, whom he called “al-Qaida supporters.”
A police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said one of the bombers in the car was a woman wearing a veil. He said four civilians were taken to a hospital in Baidoa.
3 men captured
Another policeman at the scene, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamud, told the AP that three men were captured at the scene who also appeared to be African but were not Somali. There have been numerous reports of foreign Islamic radicals coming to Somalia to join a holy war.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
On Sept. 18, President Abdullahi Yusuf escaped unharmed when a suicide bombing struck his convoy in Baidoa, although 11 people were killed in the blast and a subsequent gunbattle, including Yusuf’s younger brother. The attack was believed to be the first suicide bombing in the country.
The transitional government blamed that bombing on extremists within the Islamic movement. The group denied it, and no one has claimed responsibility.
The Islamic movement’s spokesman Sheik Abdirahim Ali Mudey said that he was consulting with other senior officials before the group would comment on the attack.
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, warned Wednesday that al-Qaida militants are operating with “great comfort” in Somalia, providing training and assistance to a radical military element loyal to the Islamic group.
Tensions run high
Tensions are high in this Horn of Africa nation where the Islamic movement and the Ethiopian-backed transitional government are vying for control. The Islamic council has been steadily gaining ground since seizing the capital of Mogadishu in June, while Somalia’s two-year-old interim government has failed to assert control anywhere except the town of Baidoa.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. The interim government was formed with the help of the United Nations two years ago, but exerts little control.
The Islamic group’s often severe interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan’s Taliban, which was ousted by a U.S.-led campaign for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida fighters. The U.S. accuses the Somali group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which it denies.
Experts have warned Somalia has become a proxy battleground for Somalia’s neighbors, Eritrea and Ethiopia. A confidential U.N. report obtained last month by The Associated Press said there were 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia or near the border. The report also said 2,000 troops from Eritrea were inside Somalia supporting the Islamic movement.
Ethiopia has acknowledged sending military advisers to help the Somalian government, but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has repeatedly denied sending troops, despite widespread witness accounts.
Neighboring Ethiopia on alert
In Ethiopia, parliament authorized military action Thursday if attacked by the Islamic movement who have declared holy war on the country over its troop incursions. Zenawi told lawmakers the country had already suffered attacks on Ethiopian soil by insurgent groups working closely with Eritrea and the Islamic forces in Somalia.
Islamic fighters ambushed an Ethiopian convoy Tuesday near a camp where the Ethiopians are training troops loyal to the weak government, witnesses said. The Islamic fighters targeted the convoy with a remote-controlled bomb, blowing up one of the vehicles, 20 miles southwest of Baidoa.
Islamic militia said around 20 Ethiopians were killed during the attack. The claim could not be independently verified. A Somali government official denied the attack took place.
Witnesses said Islamic fighters ambushed another Ethiopian military convoy earlier this month, killing six Ethiopian soldiers and wounding 20 others.
Late Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council condemned the “significant increase” in the flow of weapons to and through Somalia in violation of a 1992 arms embargo. The United States is consulting council members on another resolution that would lift the embargo for a regional force to help promote dialogue between the transitional government and the Islamic Council.
However, the Islamic movement is fiercely opposed to foreign intervention.