ABU DHABI // At least nine people were killed on Wednesday when a suicide car-bomber targeted a UAE aid convoy on a busy street in Mogadishu in Somalia.
Most of the dead were Somali civilians caught in the blast and others were thought to be soldiers guarding the convoy. No UAE personnel were among the victims.
At least six people were injured in the attack. They are expected to be flown to the UAE for treatment, the UAE Ambassador to Somalia, Mohammed Al Hammadi, said on Wednesday night.
Al Shabab, the Somali militant group linked to Al Qaeda, admitted carrying out the attack. “The mujahideen fighters … carried out a successful attack on a delegation from the government of the UAE,” it said.
The Emirati team was in the Somali capital distributing food and other aid to residents. “There is a team from the UAE working there for the reconstruction of Somalia,” said the Somali ambassador to the UAE, Abdulkadir Alhatimi.
“They were using a big car for the distribution of food and aid for Somalis and they got attacked.
“I condemn what happened to our brothers. The UAE team was helping Somali people and this is an act of terrorism but this happens once in a blue moon and it is a first time for the UAE. I am condemning this act.”
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, also condemned the attack but said it would not deter the UAE from supporting the Somali people.
“We are monitoring the situation and the investigation into the incident,” Dr Gargash said. “We will pursue our work diligently to support security, stability and development in Somalia.”
The UAE is involved in a number of security, infrastructure, development and humanitarian projects in Somalia. In February, the Khalifa Foundation launched a project for the extraction of water and construction of a pipeline to pump it to people in the Hargeisa region.
A month later, the UAE funded a military training centre in Mogadishu with the aim of developing a brigade to protect Somalia from extremist insurgents.
“The UAE has been working overtime on supporting numerous sectors across Somalia, including delivery of humanitarian aid,” said Dr Theodore Karasik, a leading analyst.
“Al Shabaab attacked this convoy … so they continue to be a security concernn, but we should not let an incident like this hamper other ongoing operations,” Dr Karasik said.
Mr Alhatimi also said the Emirati team’s work would not stop.
“Relations between the UAE and Somalia are excellent,” he said. “We are thankful to the leaders and people of the UAE for all their kind help, especially in the month of Ramadan. The reconstruction of Somalia will continue.”
He said the attackers “just want to destroy and create fear within the Somali community.
“They did it before, but Somalia is back and nothing will stop us. Refugees from Yemen are going to Somalia because it is safe today.”
The attackers, he said, “just want to show Somalia is not safe although thousands of Somalis and Yemenis live there peacefully”.
Mr Alhatimi said Al Shabab would fail in its attempt to tarnish Somalia’s image.
“They cannot do it,” he said. “The country is succeeding and, in doing this kind of action, they just want to show the wrong image of the country. It will be the last time.”
Somalia has been wracked by instability since the collapse of Siad Barre’s hardline regime in 1991.
The current government is being supported by Amisom, a 22,000-strong African Union force with troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
An Amisom and Somali army offensive last year pushed Al Shabab out of major strongholds, but the group still controls some rural areas from where it launches regular attacks in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya.
The group’s fighters detonated a car bomb in the capital on Sunday and shot their way into a national intelligence agency training site. Four militants were killed.
Witnesses to Wednesday’s attack described chaotic scenes as civilians fled screaming through nearby alleys while soldiers fired in the air to prevent a crowd from gathering. Civilians carried wounded victims to nearby hospitals.
“We die like insects every day,” said Ahmed Mohamed, whose wife was wounded in the attack.
“Some tried to get closer to see what was going on but government soldiers shot in the air for people to dissipate,” another witness said. “The street usually has heavy traffic with a lot of public transport, taxis and people living around. There is also a big ministry camp for the Somali armed forces near by and the area is very near the UAE embassy.”
An Amisom military convoy was also passing near by at the time of the attack.
“I saw the dead bodies of two people, and there were several wounded soldiers,” said Abdulahi Yasin, who saw the aftermath.
“The explosion was very heavy and it destroyed the pick-up truck,” said Hassan Bile, another witness.
* Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse
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(via The National)